Rich's Quest For Flight

My father was a pilot. He died doing what he loved to do. It has been a goal of my life to become a pilot. Now I have chance to do so. Follow me as I pursue my dream.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Rainy. Wet. Windy. All aircraft on the field were tied down. Nothing was moving at KRYV today. So it was a good thing to plan a ground session in advance. Beats the disappointment of expecting to fly and not being able to.

So we hit the books today, covering two important areas of aviation: the sectional chart and airspace. The sectional chart is more than just a map, it also displays important and valuable information concerning airports and navigational aids. As long as the pilot understands the information and how to use it, he will never find himself on the wrong side of an embarrassing situation, be it violating restricted airspace or landing at the wrong airport.

Our other topic was airspace. The FAA created airspace regulations to provide a systematic way to control how airplanes move through the air to ensure the safety of all who use it. Airspace is divided into two broad categories: controlled and uncontrolled. In reality, most airspace is controlled in some way. There are 5 classes of controlled airspace: A, B, C, D, and E. Class A is all the airspace above and including 18,000 feet all the way up to 60,000 feet. I won't be using that airspace anytime soon, since you have to be instrument rated to fly there. Below 18,000 feet, the size of the airport will generally determine the class of the airspace you are flying in. The busiest airports, such as Chicago-O'Hare (KORD), Dallas-Fort Worth (KDFW), or Memphis (KMEM) will be surrounded by Class B airspace. The requirements to fly in that airspace is most restrictive and you need permission to fly in it. At the other end of the scale is Class E airspace, which surrounds airports like Watertown (KRYV) and provide minimum visibility requirements. The concepts are simple, but trying to remember all the parameters is the hard part. As a VFR (visual flight rules) pilot, I have to know the visibility and cloud clearance requirements for all classes of airspace.

So there you go. Pretty dry stuff. But very important. I still get these moments where I wonder how it will all come together, and that first cross country flight will truly be nerve wracking. As always, a quick moment of personal inventory reassures me that all you have to do is do it a few times and it will become near second nature in the future.

Next lesson is Tuesday, and the forecast is not looking great. We'll see how it goes. Until then, keep the blue part up and the greasy part down!

Friday, April 28, 2006

KRYV 282215Z AUTO 11012G16KT 10SM CLR A3020 RMK AO2

Another nice Wisconsin day, especially if you like gusty winds. But before I get into the lesson, here's a news bulletin:

That's right folks! It's my medical certificate! I am now officially a student pilot. It was a bit of an adventure, though. I originally scheduled the appointment for 11:45 a.m. today, but then my return flight from my trip to Kentucky was scheduled for early this morning. My plane didn't land in Milwaukee until 10:21 a.m., so I had to hustle to get to Fort Atkinson for my appointment. I was in phone contact with the doctor's office and the people there were very accomodating and understanding. In a way, it was an old fashioned physical such as is rarely administered any longer. There was a questionnaire to fill out. I was measured, had a urine sample, and blood pressure taken. Then the doc (a nice, elderly gentleman) came in, reviewed my questionnaire and did all the things a doc used to do when giving a checkup, including the turning of the head and coughing. Then, after remitting $107, I had my certificate in hand, good for two years.

I didn't have long to get back home and gather my kit for my lesson. I have maintained my custom of walking to the airport, just under a mile away. I like to think that it helps get me mentally prepared for the lesson to come, then to provide me the opportunity to blow off steam once I'm done.

It was a mixed bag today; some success and some frustration. Although conditions were bumpy and gusty on the ground, things were quite different at 4,000 feet. It was quite smooth. After clearing turns, I tried steep turns. The first one went badly. Perhaps it would have helped if I was at the proper speed before I started the turn. Adam didn't remind me about airspeed, and perhaps he was testing me to see if I remembered. Once I set up properly and at the right speed, I tried it again and it was much better. There was some practice with slow flight and stalls which went fine. Then we headed over to Dodge County (KUNU), and as we flew over the airfield, Adam cut the power to throttle and I got to rehearse my engine failure and power off landing. I did fine to pitch the plane and glide it in, but now I realize I forgot to run through the troubleshooting checklist. I'll have to talk to Adam about it on Sunday. After a "normal" touch-and-go to gauge the crosswinds, Adam had me practice a short field landing. It didn't go very well. Let's say I was rusty. All the the brainpower that I put into trying to remember how to do one caused me to miss the first one badly. I didn't even correct properly for the crosswind. So we went around and tried it again. The approach went better, but I floated too far down the runway to make it a satisfactory attempt. We did a couple of soft field landings and take offs, then we departed Dodge County and headed back to Watertown.

This would be the second time that I used Runway 11, with the right hand pattern. The first time didn't go well since I was a bit disoriented between landing on this particular runway for the first time and using a right traffic pattern. This time, with no crosswind, I did much better. I am pretty certain that both landings were all mine, with no help at all.

So now we reach a critical point in my training. I have my medical certificate, so now all that stand between me and my first solo is my instructor's judgement. When will it happen? I've resolved to not ask. I have a feeling that it will just happen. I may show up at the field and Adam will tell me to take her up by myself. Perhaps we'll do landing practice and he'll get out of the plane and tell me to take it around a couple of times. I just have this feeling that he's not going to tell me ahead of time. He just might decide I'm ready during a lesson and go with the feeling.

I know this much; Sunday's lesson will be a ground lesson for knowledge review. The forecast calls for rain, so we made that decision now that we're not going to fly. Adam already told me that our next flying lesson will involved ground reference maneuvers (more about that next time), so I doubt the solo will happen then. I am not traveling next week, so I've scheduled lessons for Tuesday and Thursday.

So stay tuned for the next exciting edition of Rich's Quest For Flight.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

KRYV 231959Z AUTO 02011KT 10SM SCT042 BKN050 OVC060 A2991 RMK AO2
KRYV 232159Z AUTO 35008KT 10SM CLR A2992 RMK AO2
What a difference a couple of hours makes, eh? When I arrived at the airport, it was overcast and a breeze from 20 degrees. By the time we were finished, the wind shifted around to 350 and the skies were clear.

Last time we were together, I said my next lesson would be a ground lesson on Saturday. Well, I flubbed the day, but I was pleased to learn we would be going up. Recall that Tuesday's lesson didn't go so well for me, and I was really yearning to get back up and redeem myself. And redeem myself I did! It was a wonderful afternoon in the air. Never before has 1.7 hours gone by so fast.

I checked the plane out and did the preflight, and we were rolling to Runway 5 for takeoff. The pattern was clear, and we were rolling and on our way. In about 15 minutes, we were entering the pattern for Runway 2 of Dodge County Airport (KUNU).

KUNU 232119Z AUTO 36011G18KT 10SM SCT035 SCT049 BKN055 13/09 A2992 RMK AO2

Now the conditions here were slightly different. The winds were from due north. But even that's misleading, because for the hour or so that we were doing landings there, the winds continued to shift around to the extent that the first landing was crab left, and the last one was crab right. So the lesson there is, always watch the windsock. And if you don't do that, as long as you're paying attention to how you have to keep moving in the direction you want to go, you'll notice how you're having to point the airplane. It really isn't that hard. The landings overall went much better than Tuesday. Repetition is the key to everything. Practice, practice, practice. The most notable landing came when Adam cut the throttle while I was on the downwind leg. He asked me what my options were, and I start saying, "well, we can make that field, and that field and that field". I thought I was giving the right answers. Adam wrecks my smugness by suggesting that we can make the airport. D'oh! Foiled again. Pitch to the glide speed, see where I'm at in relation to the runway, and quickly determine that I can make it. Now it's a question of turning to final and making sure the runway is assured. Once it is, I start putting in flaps, pitch the plane down, and glide in for a smooth landing. Then, miraculously, the engine comes back and we're lifting off.

On the way back to Watertown, time for some maneuvers. For the first time, I am proud to announce, I did my steep turns to standard! That felt good. Real good. Slow maneuvers? No sweat. Full power stalls? Easy. This time, when we did low speed stalls, Adam had me execute a turn as the plane stalled. The recovery from my first turning stall was almost uneventful. The only difference is to make sure to level the wings. Everything else is the same.

We fly over Watertown airport and continue a short way to the south so that we can enter the pattern on the right downwind to Runway 5. This is the first time I've used Runway 5 since the very first lesson, so once again I'm landing on an unfamiliar runway. And a right traffic pattern is still hard to get used to. As a result, I rely on Adam for my turning cues as I set the plane up for landing. I'm a bit high once again as I turn final, but now I'm finding it more and more instinctive to reduce power while still maintaining pitch to lose altitude. I make the runway, the crab is a little off, and I glide a little far. But not as bad as any of the other first landings. It seems to be getting better, bit by bit, all the time. While my initial landings are still a bit high from final, I'm not having as hard a time trying to lose that altitude. My confidence is growing. Perhaps not as fast as I'd like. Then again, this is a long process.

The last landing was the best, and we taxi off the runway and head to the pumps. Since I didn't want to jinx myself in the air, I waited until we were at the ramp before I finally relaxed and expressed some good vibes. What a great day it was.

So it's back to work and back on the road again. Next lesson is Friday. My flight physical is scheduled for Friday, but there's a potential glitch. I called the doctor's office to let them know that I might be 15 minutes late, and the person on the other end informed me that a parent of the nurse was in bad health and that the visit could be postponed. So I need to cross my fingers and hope that we're still on when I land on Friday. If all goes well, I will show up for my lesson with my medical certificate and student pilot permit in hand. Then I'll be a pre-solo written test away from my first solo. Oh yeah, Adam makes that call. It's whenever he feels I'm ready. Now that I have a computer with a DVD drive, I can take the ASA Virtual Prep course with me. I will also continue to work on the pre-solo exam.

One last note. I found out that a classmate of my oldest son is starting his lessons soon, also with Adam. I will try to follow his progress.

That's it for now. Another episode of my Quest For Flight is in the can. See you all on Friday.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Welcome back to Rich's Quest For Flight. Fully refreshed and recovered from the adventures on Tuesday, I was actually raring to go. Problem was, there was going to be no flying today as per the plan. The winds were brisk again but from the west, favoring Runway 29. There were some awfully neat wave clouds in the sky like I've not seen since I moved here; I'll see if any of the pics I took of them are any good.

So, while a class was going on in the classroom for the sport pilot course, Adam and I sat in the training room and worked our way through the first two chapters of the Jeppesen Private Pilot Handbook. It was easy stuff, but since it has been two weeks since I read it originally, it turned out to be a nice review. It's so important to continue to keep fresh, no matter how easy it may seem. Adam remains pleased with my progress, this time from the knowledge side, so all is well. We're planning on more of the same for Saturday, but we haven't cancelled the plane yet, so I'm hoping I'll get up to at least do a few local circuits.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

KRYV 182358Z AUTO 09011G16KT 10SM CLR A2990 RMK AO2

I can't believe what I'm about to say. For the first time, flying was more of a chore than fun. Winds were brisk out of the east and gusty. Skies were clear, which has been a bit of a problem during these evening lessons. The wind suited Runway 11 at Watertown perfectly, so what do we do? Yep, we fly up to Dodge County Airport so that we can use Runway 8 for crosswind landing practice. So now when we do a circuit, the crosswind leg is more of a downwind, the downwind more like a crosswind, the base like an upwind, and the final is just one big crab. There are two ways to do a final approach into a crosswind. One is to point the plane into the wind so that the track along the ground gets you to the runway. Just before touchdown, put in left rudder to straighten out the plane. That's called crabbing. The other way is to dip the wing into the wind while applying opposite rudder. Level the wing just before landing. This is called the wing-low approach. Oh, by the way, don't forget to land on the upwind landing wheel.

Once you land, carb heat in, throttle in, flaps up, and take off again. Oh, and don't forget to breathe. Climb to pattern altitude, turn to crosswind and quickly to downwind and repeat the whole thing over. When flying in the pattern you can't relax for a minute. Maybe thirty seconds, but not a minute. And I was always coming in high. Which meant I had to nose down and cut power more, which meant we came in steep, causing me to flare too early, and then just plopping the thing down. No fun. Ego deflating.

We made our way back to Watertown and entered the pattern for Runway 11 on the upwind leg. Runway 11-29 is the short runway at Watertown, and a right pattern for 11 is directed. This is the first time using this runway for landings, and I'm already drained from the struggles at Dodge County. The downwind went so quickly that I must have been a whole mile from the airport before turning to base. There was a Piper Archer behind me, and the pilot must have been thinking, "student". I finally got the thing turned to final and I was still high! More playing around with power and I muscled it to the ground. At least I think I was. I'm pretty sure Adam was controlling the plane for most of this lesson. And around one more time.

I look at my logbook and it says 6.9 hours. I need at least 40 and probably 50. It's hitting me now for the first time that I have a long way to go. This lesson left me exhausted mentally. I spent the whole walk home talking to myself. There's a lot of work to do. The forecast for Thursday calls for rain, but Adam said we're going to do ground stuff unless the weather is perfect. Maybe I'll get my head back together before then.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

KRYV 162158Z AUTO 05012G17KT 10SM -RA SCT055 BKN070 BKN100 A2967 RMK AO2
In other words, a blustery, rainy, low ceiling kind of a day. Yep, it's a scrub. Which really isn't that bad. Remember, my instructor said I was well ahead of the game, and a solo will come sooner rather than later. But I need my medical first, and that isn't until the 28th. I have 3 lessons scheduled this week alone, so another 4.5 hours along with the 4.5 I have so far will put me at 9 hours with a week until the physical.

So I spent my time today studying. I'm through the first 3 chapters of the ASA Virtual Test Prep, and I'm in Chapter 4 of Jeppesen's Private Pilot Guide. Adam also gave me a video of chapters 4 and 5 to look at. I'm past all of the flight theory and instruments stuff, and now I'm looking at airport operations, voice communications, airspace, and all that. There is a lot of redundancy between the two products, and that's fine. It's good to see things explained in slightly different ways. For instance, I'm a meteorologist, and I still have a trouble remembering the affects of temperature on air density. Or the proclivities of the magnetic compass.

The ASA Ground School is very good, but since the method is "say what you're about to teach, teach it, and tell them what you've learned", it can get pretty mundane. Plus, one instructor they use is a TV weatherman, and he brings all that obnoxious banter with him to these DVDs. Plus, I started later with the ASA than the Jeppesen, so I've seen it once already. What I will do is get caught up so that I will proceed through them in a parallel manner. The ASA product also uses actual FAA exam questions, and as long as you have reviewed the material, they are really quite easy. Here's an example:

3105. If an altimeter setting is not available before flight, to which altitude should the pilot adjust the altimeter?

A - The elevation of the nearest airport corrected to mean sea level.
B - The elevation of the departure area.
C - Pressure altitude corrected for nonstandard temperature.

Feel free to leave a comment with your guesses. But that's the format of the exam. A question followed by 3 choices. The knowledge test will be 60 questions long, with a passing score of 70%. Should be a piece of cake. But I'm not taking any chances. Before I take the test I will have answered over 160 practice questions along with 2 full length practice exams, or another 120 questions. I'll be ready, you can be sure of it. At the rate I'm going, I should be ready to take the test for real in about 4 to 5 weeks.

So that's it for now. Lessons Tuesday and Thursday. Tailwinds!

Friday, April 14, 2006

KRYV 142218Z AUTO 30010G16KT 10SM CLR A2956 RMK AO2

It started off overcast today, with a few scattered showers. But as the day went on, everything cleared up and it got very warm for April. The winds were a bit stiff today, which would make for some fun boundary layer turbulence. I took off from work an hour early so that I could get this flight in before dinner.

I was on a trip this week, so I hadn't flown since Sunday, and I was just a little concerned. Would I be rusty? How natural would this come back? I got home from work and had just enough time to jump into a pair of shorts, grab a couple of snack bars, pick up the bag, and walk to the airport. Adam was out with another student when I arrived, so I had a seat, pulled out my maneuvers manual, and tried to get my head on. Soon, Adam got back, I pre-flighted 02E, and we were on our way. Right away I had difficulty taxiing, and for no good reason. I was all over the place. Turns out my foot placement had been too high on the rudder pedals, and a repositioning made it easier to steer. Quite frankly, if there was anything causing me any kind of grief during my experience thus far, it's been the rudder. Whether steering on the ground or flying in the air, the rudder turns out to be a rather stiff and mushy proposition. Feedback from input is not instantaneous, so one needs to develop some patience with it.

Once airborne, we turned north up toward Hustisford to our maneuver area. The clearing turns went fine, and the next order was steep turns. I knew we were going to do these, I knew what the standards were, I knew that I would need to apply back pressure and add throttle, and yet I still made a hash of it. I dropped close to 500', which is almost hard to do. I only had time to take a breath as I was directed to proceed straight to a steep turn to the right. I did better on that one, but the turn was still a bit too shallow at times. Perhaps the wind was playing games with me, too. As you turn through a circle, the direction of the wind (and its effects on the plane) is constantly changing. This clearly was going to take a lot of practice. But it was also a slap to the face, so to speak, and now my head was finally in the plane.

We next made our way over to Dodge County Airport (KUNU), near Juneau. New airfield, new runway, so we're going to go easy, right? We're going to use runway 26, so that means we're landing into a 35 to 45 degree quartering wind. In order to keep the pattern a rectangle, I need to fly the plane turned into wind. Which is fine, but I'm constantly making left turns. So the wind is always coming from a different place and I have to account for it. Which takes brain power. Which turned out to be not that difficult at all. Some farmer had a leaf pile burning (not a good idea on a windy day, btw) and it was providing a perfect wind gauge to help me figure the wind out. The first landing was a touch and go and we were back in the pattern. Next landing is a full stop landing, and this one wasn't so good as a puff of wind caused us to balloon a bit and land long. With 5000' of runway, there's plenty of real estate to work with, so no worries. As we leave the runway and taxi back for the next take off, Adam told me how John Deere likes to use the airport grounds as a test ground for their new mowers and such. He said it's quite the sight to see, platoons of mowers running around like the Shriners in their go karts.

Our next manuever was a short field takeoff, followed by a circuit and another full stop landing. Taxi back to the top of the runway, then we did a soft field takeoff. Both times I forgot to push the carb heat back in. More minor mental lapses. We headed back south toward Watertown, entered the pattern from the crosswind and came in to land for the last time today. Adam is really pleased with my progress. He says I'm a good 5 lessons ahead of the average student. He also told me not to beat myself up over mental mistakes.

My initial account of $1000 is about used up, so I'm bringing a check for $1500 with me next time. That means the quest so far has cost about $1280. While I was gone, the DVD Ground School came in from ASA, so I'll start looking at that. Time to put this one in the shed for the night. Next lesson on Sunday. Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

METAR text: KRYV 100018Z AUTO 18004KT 10SM CLR 11/M01 A3011 RMK AO2
Conditions at: KRYV (WATERTOWN, WI, US) observed 0018 UTC 10 April 2006
Temperature: 11.0°C (52°F)
Dewpoint: -1.0°C (30°F) [RH = 43%]
Pressure (altimeter): 30.11 inches Hg (1019.7 mb)
Winds: from the S (180 degrees) at 5 MPH (4 knots; 2.1 m/s)
Visibility: 10 or more miles (16+ km)
Ceiling: at least 12,000 feet AGL
Clouds: sky clear below 12,000 feet AGL
Weather: automated observation with no human augmentation;
there may or may not be significant weather present at this time

This format breaks out the message at the top into its components in a way that is more understandable to the layperson. It was just a beautiful evening.

Got to the airport 10 minutes early, and Adam was there and ready to go. We went back to the briefing room, and had a 10 minute discussion about flying in the "pattern". The pattern is the prescribed circuit in conjunction with a given runway that helps pilots to be more aware of the traffic around them in the critical airspace around an airport. Think of a rectangle with one side overlaying the runway. In the case of a left pattern, you start with takeoff into the wind, or the "upwind". The you turn left after you've climbed out, onto the "crosswind". Once you've reached the pattern altitude, level off, reduce power to cruise, then turn left again onto the "downwind". Once you've reached the end of the field, then reduce power again, pitch down and put in a notch of flaps. When the runway is 45 degrees behind you, then turn left again, onto the "base" leg. Another notch of flaps, pitch to maintain 70 knots, and wait for the runway to get to your left front, and then turn to final. One last notch of flaps and then use power and pitch to get the plane to the threshold. Once you've reached the threshold, you're home, so you can reduce power until the plane is about 50 feet off the ground, then pull back on the yoke and bleed off the rest the speed until the plane gently touches down. That's the idea, at least.

Usually patterns are left patterns. It's the easiest way for the pilot (in the left seat) to see the airfield. At Watertown (KRYV) only runways 23 and 29 use left traffic patterns. When 5 and 11 are in use, then a right pattern is directed. The reason why it's that way at Watertown is because a left pattern for those runways would route aircraft over residential neighborhoods. Certainly it saves the residents from some noise but, more importantly, if a plane loses power over houses, bad things get even worse. The airport is at the edge of town, and right patterns for those runways fly over mostly farms fields.

So we took off from Runway 23 and did landings for the entire lesson. We did a total of 8 landings, applying power and raising the flaps after each one for an immediate takeoff. The runway is about 4400' long, so there is plenty of time to land, take a breath, savor it for a second, then power up and do it all again. We practiced several types of landings. There's a short field procedure, and a soft field procedure. Nothing difficult about them, just slight variations of the standard procedure.

It was a fun flight. After the fourth touch-and-go I felt as though I could do it all day. Then again, I was caught trying to steer on the ground with the aileron (you steer on the ground with the rudder peddles, not the yoke), so I did lose some mental sharpness near the end. Flying the plane is feeling more and more like driving a car; the controls are feeling more natural.

So that's all for now, the next lesson is not until Friday as I am on another business trip this week. Bye!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

KRYV 081918Z AUTO 33005KT 10SM SCT035 06/M01 A3022 RMK AO2

In other words, just a beautiful gorgeous day today. Light winds from the north, lightly scattered clouds, cool temperatures.

I spent a little time at home doing some reading on maneuvers. A nice walk to the airport; takes about 15 minutes. Heidi had the dispatch paperwork ready when I arrived, so I checked that over. Adam came by after a couple of minutes and we were on our way to the flightline. Completed the preflight checks and belted ourselves in. Since winds were from 330 (NNW), we would be using runway 5. This would mean we would be taking off and landing into a crosswind. Before takeoff checks were complete, and we taxied onto the runway and we took off. As we rolled, we added right aileron to counter the effect of the wind. Once we left the ground, we neutralized the aileron but added some left rudder to crab into the wind so we could maintain our heading. We turned to north and continued out of the pattern on the way to the training area.

There were some clouds around 3500 feet, so we needed to climb at least 1000' above them. Once we were at altitude and leveled, I did clearing turns to the left and right. Adam then had me perform steep bank procedure turns to the left and right. These are actually tricky critters. When you bank an airplane, you do not have the full vertical component of lift that you would when the wings are level. This means you're going to descend unless you either pitch up or add power. In a steep bank, your wings are at 45 degrees, so you're getting only about half the lift. The requirement is that you must complete the turn and vary in altitude no less than 100' up or down. I descended 500'. Suffice to say I need practice.

Then we slowed the plane down and dropped flaps as Adam had me do some slow speed maneuvering. So now we're flying 5 knots above stall speed and making turns. The plane gets real "mushy" when flying slow. You really have to muscle the thing to get it to do what you want it to. Then, just for fun, Adam has me stall the plane just to practice stall recovery. I have a feeling that he's going to have me stall the plane every flight. After we recovered, we did a full throttle stall.

Once we got back up to our practice altitude, Adam says, "let's look at the engine failure checklist." Right away I got a lump in my throat. Second flight and we were going to practice emergency landing procedures. I took a breath, and away we went. Pulled the throttle out, and trimmed the plane for a 65kt glide. The glide velocity, simply put, is the speed at which the plane can fly and is controllable, for an optimized descent rate. Adam had me look around for suitable landing fields, at the same time trying to keep level flight and the 65kt airspeed. We talked through the engine restart procedure (we never actually shut the engine down, that would be dangerous) and "determined" that the engine was out and we had to land. I swallowed again. He actually had me take the plane down and set flaps. The ground was getting awfully close. Then, after what seemed like two minutes, he directed me to recover, so I got that throttle in and pitched the sucker up. I wonder what an observer on the ground would think if he saw a plane 4oo' off the ground.

We climbed back up to 3000' and headed back to the airport. As we approached, we started a descent to around 1800' for entry into the traffice pattern. Runway 5 at Watertown mandates a right hand pattern, meaning we'd be making a lot of right turns. So we entered the pattern on the crosswind, then turned downwind (parallel to the runway, with the wind). Reduced throttle, speed below 100kts, then one notch of flaps. Lowering the flaps forces wind down so the plane wants to go up. So I have to pitch down to accomodate and reduce power. Then the turn to final, and lining up with the runway. We did four landings today, and each time I always turned to final too soon, meaning I had to slide a bit to the left to line up. Part of the reason was that I was turning into a quartering wind, which was pushing the plane to the right. Also, each time we came in I was a little high. Better to be high, than too low and slow. One would rather land halfway down the runway than not make it at all. It was easy to correct by reducing power and dropping the nose down. Once we cleared the threshold, I reduced power slowly and let the plane drop. About 20' above the ground, a gentle pull back on the yoke to flare, then holding and pulling back until the plane plopped gently on the ground. Then it was flaps up, carb heat off and full throttle and we were airborne again. As I said, we did four circuits like this. By the third circuit I was at sensory overload, and I started to feel confused. I almost told Adam that this ought to be the last one. But I hung in there and trusted that Adam that he would notice if I was impaired and take the plane. And it was a good thing we continued as I pulled myself together and made the fourth landing the best one of the clutch. We pulled off the runway, stopped, performed after landing checks, and taxied to the ramp.

We secured the plane and I told a huge breath. Good thing it was a cool day, or I would have been sweating buckets. Adam had quite a bit of praise for me, saying we did things today that he often waits until the fifth or sixth lesson with other students. He really likes how well it's going, and that's pleasing to me. It was a real mental challenge today. We did so much stuff that I'm amazed how I could remember to type it all down here. Of course Adam said that all students tend to be a bit overwhelmed at the start, it's just a matter of time before it's all routine. I suppose it's a smart thing to reach the point of overload just to know what it feels like, to determine just how much sensory input you can endure. That kind of knowledge may just save my life in an emergency.

Quite a day. The first solo seems a long way away, yet I intend to be ready. I have this sneaking suspicion that Adam is not going to tell me when it is. I'm just going to show up, and he's going to tell me to preflight and take myself. That will be an interesting day.

(On a related note, I am scheduled for my flight physical on April 28. I can't solo until i have my medical certificate, so just maybe the solo will happen that day.)

Next lesson is tomorrow. I have a video tape to watch tonight. God, I love this.

Friday, April 07, 2006

This won't be the last time you hear me complain about the weather. We don't have just any weather here, we have Wisconsin Weather. And we had Wisconsin Weather today. I'm sure you've heard the old saw, "if you don't like the weather in Wisconsin, just wait 5 minutes." That turned out to be the truth today. After raining most of the day, and with most of southern Wisconsin under IFR conditions, I headed to the airport for my 5:00 p.m. lesson fully expecting a scrub. And scrubbed it was. Adam didn't have anything to cover in ground school today, so I left the airport looking forward to tomorrow's lesson. And better weather. (Note: Anticipating the weather, I scheduled a lesson for Sunday.)

So I got back to the house, and not long after, the doorbell rang and it was Mr. Brown delivering my brand new headset! And here it is:

So, like a kid at Christmas, I opened the package, read the instructions, and generally fiddled around with my new (coff coff) toy. I swear I did not run around with my arms extended making engine noises with my lips. I am well beyond that.

And then I looked out of the window and wouldn't you know it, the skies were clear and the sun was shining. The rest of the front had blown through and all that was left was some wind.

Back at it tomorrow, see you then.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

First lesson! But first, some meteorology:

KRYV 060058Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM BKN090 12/M03 A2991 RMK AO2

The above line is called a METAR. It's a one line reading of the current weather conditions. More later, but all you need to know is that the weather was fabulous.

I was originally scheduled for 7:00 p.m., but since sunset was at 7:27 tonight, I called the FBO and was able to move that up to 6:30 p.m.

I arrived about 10 minutes early, and Adam was just finishing up his previous student. Rana had the plane checked out and the keys were ready, so Adam and I went to the flight line to start the pre-flight checks. Since N9002E is used primarily for training, there was a laminated checklist and we went through it in detail. We made a counter clockwise path around the plane, checking flight surfaces, moving parts (ailerons, elevator, rudder, etc.). We also checked the fuel and engine.

With the inspection complete, we buckled ourselves in, performed the engine start checks, and then we started moving. After some taxi practice, we made our way out to Runway 23. We stopped short and did our runup checks while a plane in front of us was moving onto the runway. The runup checks involve bringing the engine to speed and checking the component gauges and magnetos to make sure everything is functioning properly.

Since Watertown (KRYV) does not have a tower, we don't need a clearance, per se, to take off. But protocol says we still should announce our movements over a common frequency so that other planes in the area know what we're up to. We move onto the runway, align with the center line, then a bit of a surprise. Adam has me throttle up, and we're rolling. Then he gives me the plane and tells me to watch the air speed indicator and notice what happens when we hit 55 knots. I'm holding back on the yoke, and sure enough, when we hit 55, we lift off the ground and we're airborne. We turn to the south and climb to around 3500 feet and make our way to the manuever area. Once there, we work our way through a number of turns, do some climbing and descending, and similar things to familiarize me with the plane. We even did some stall training! Funny thing, stalls. The whole concept might seem intimidating, since it's another way of saying the plane has lost the ability to fly. But it's really not a big deal and it's very easy to recover from. Just point the nose down and apply power. Now a stall during a turn could be an adventure, but we'll learn how to deal with those later.

The sunset was a normal one I suppose, but it was the first one I've seen while flying an airplane. So it was just gorgeous. We made our way back to Watertown, entered the pattern, and brought 02E in for a landing. I actually had the plane all the way down until Adam took over and flared the plane for landing. We cleared the runway, taxied back to the ramp, shut down and performed our after checks. Back in the FBO office, I got my very first logbook entry.

We're on our way.

Next lesson is Friday. More then. Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, April 03, 2006

#3. It's Saturday, April 1.

Now that I've resolved to go forward with lessons, I stop in at the Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) for Watertown Municipal Airport (KRYV), Wisconsin Aviation, Inc. Adam happened to be there, and he introduces me to Rana, the administrative assistant (who happens to live two houses down from me on my street), and we begin the process of opening an account and filling out of paperwork. Adam shows me how to log into their scheduling system, which means I can schedule my lessons without having to call the FBO. One of my worries is that, with my travel schedule, I'll be taking most of my lessons on the weekends. This concerns me two ways: one, going from Sunday to the next Saturday can cause rustiness that takes additional flying time to shake, and two, if I flew Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, that causes problems because with the lessons condensed so close, negative learning becomes a concern. I will have assignments to do between lessons, and having a dense schedule may cause me to not prepare well enough for the next lesson. And that could lead to more makeup time.

Quick tangent. I've been a soccer referee since 1994. Without getting into a long winded discussion on priorities and passions and all that, I've decided to cut back substantially on my referee committments this spring. There's more to it than that, but let's consider that box checked. Back to the story.

So managing the schedule will be key. Now the money starts to flow. I need stuff. A pilot starter kit. This one is by Jeppesen, and it is a collection of textbooks, maneuver manuals, practice tests, and instruments needed to complete training, both flight and ground.

The FBO had a pretty good deal on it, $222. I put $1000 on account, and that entitled me to a 5% discount, so the price for the kit was $172.

Next, Adam recommended I obtain my own aviation headset. A headset serves two purposes: first, you need to talk to the guy in the other seat and whoever you need to talk to over the radio, and second, noise reduction. These little single engine planes are pretty loud. Headsets are available for a wide range of prices, and typically you get what you paid for. After doing some research on features, and trying to guess just how much I'd be able to fly in the future, I settled on the AVCOMM AC900 PNR headset. I ordered from a store on eBay for $165.

Finally, my schedule prevents me from attending a traditional ground school to prepare for the FAA written exam, so I thought it prudent to buy a test prep program online. Adam recommended the package from ASA, so I ordered one for $110. This package is DVD based, so if I can wangle a DVD drive out of my tech support for my laptop, I'll be able to study at night while I'm on the road.

So that about catches everything up. My first lesson is on Wednesday, and Adam assigned me to read the first chapter of the Pilot Handbook. I read the first two chapters, just for good measure.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Here's the story so far:

I owe all of this to my wife. For Christmas 2004, she gave me a gift certificate entitling me to an introductory flight at the local flight school at Watertown Municipal Airport. It was an important moment, for a several reasons. First, my mother passed away less than two months earlier, this was a significant positive emotional moment for me. Still in mourning for my mother, I now had something to look forward to. Second, this was an endorsement of sorts from my wife that she wanted me to pursue this. I had made no secret that this was a dream of mine, now she gave her approval. She still says she won't go up with me, though. I'll keep working on that.

So here we were, on a warm July day. Time to take that introductory flight. I walked to the airport (my house is just less than a mile away) and enjoyed the sights along the way. When I arrived, I met my instructor, a fellow named Adam. He gave me a few initial instructions, and we were on our way to the flightline in quick order. The plane was a Cessna 172, tail N9002E, and after some adjusting of seats and reading the pre-flight checklists, we started her up and we were taxiing to the runway. I was in the left (command) seat, but Adam had the plane for the takeoff and initial climb. Once we were at a safe maneuver altitude, Adam gave me the controls. A little background here. I have been using Microsoft Flight Simulator for more than 10 years, so I have a passing familiarity of what it takes to fly a plane. A little more background, for what it's worth. I'm actually scared of heights. But that didn't stop me from going through the Army Airborne School in 1985. As long as I know something is keeping me from hurtling to my death, I'm ok. The last time I was offered the controls of an airplane, I refused out of fear. This time, I embraced it. It was freaking cool! To finally get a sense of the feel of an airplane was a major rush. I took the plane through some simple turns over Johnson Creek, then we headed back to the airport. Adam took charge for the landing, and we were back at the apron. I swear I had a cake eating grin the whole way back from the airport.

Wow! What a thrill! I knew this was going to happen. The question was, when? Money has never been in great supply in this house; that's why I haven't already done it. So I would need to wait until the financial picture got better. And eventually, it did. My brother, the executor of my mom's modest estate, had yet to sell her house. He was unable to do so right away because the timing was all bad. But now he had a buyer. Folks here in the U.S. know how crazy the real estate market had been, and my brother and I are the only beneficiaries. Believe it or not, not only will I be able to fund my flight training, but I will also be able to finally get rid of all of my credit card debt and most of my other obligations. So now the stars are all aligned and everything is go to pursue my license. Sad, in a way, that it would take a death to make this happen, but on the other hand I know this is something my mother would have approved of. She knew this is what I wanted to do. She would have never gotten in the way of it.

So that's the prelude. Yesterday I went and spent lots of money. More about that in the next installment of Rich's Quest For Flight.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Welcome to the first post in Rich's Quest For Flight. As you can probably tell, I'm Rich.

I had my first ride in an airplane on a summer day in 1967 in Warner Robins, Georgia. My father had earned his pilot's license while he served in the Air Force. During his stint in the Air Force he had discovered his calling and had made a quick progression in flight training and certification, starting with his private pilot's license, then instrument rating, multi-engine, and commercial rating. He also was certified as an instructor. He did this all in a very short period of time. He knew what he was going to do for his life after the Air Force. When he landed his first professional job as the pilot for a young soul singer from Macon named Otis Redding, he processed out of the service and began his new career. It would be a short career, ending when the Beechcraft he was flying crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin on a cold December day in 1967.

But that flight with my father became stamped in my memory. There I was, in the right seat, my dad at the controls. Unencumbered by restraints in any direction, we were floating high in the sky. I was barely tall enough to see out the door window, but I could see for miles. The most vivid memory was when my dad offered me the controls. I was mortified! How could I possibly fly this plane? But perhaps it was that moment that became the seed of a dream that I would now, after 39 years, finally fulfill. And, it is the single memory that remains of the father I lost a short time later.

So here we are. Learning to fly. This blog will be a journal in the traditional sense. I aim to document every action and every expense of all the events during the course of the next several months. I am doing it really for no one else but me, and the memory of my father. For those who wish to follow along, welcome aboard. It should be a fun ride.