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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Ground lesson today. Pity, the weather was just gorgeous today after a day of stormy weather yesterday. But alas, 02E is in for its annual service, so it was a ground session today. Today's topics were communications procedures and the weather. Pretty simple for me, since I had quite a bit of experience talking on radios during my army days, and these procedures are not a from cry from what the military does. As for the weather? Well, let's just say my degree in Meteorology is finally proving useful after 20 years.

Test time is approaching, and my end of June target seems very realistic. I have one more chapter of the ASA ground prep and about two chapters of the Jepp private pilot manual. I have at least three practice tests I can take, plus I think Adam will be giving me one as well. Looking at the June calendar, I am scheduled for roughly 7.5 hours of flying time, surely my first solo will happen this month. Get past those two milestones, then we'll start getting into cross country flight. Next lesson is Saturday, see you then, and thanks for stopping by.

Monday, May 29, 2006

KRYV 291836Z AUTO 17010G17KT 10SM SCT050 30/21 A3001 RMK AO2

If I hadn't lost my E6B Flight Computer, I'd be able to tell you that 30C is pretty damn warm. Okay, that's 86F, but in the plane it was 105F, for the time being at least. Scattered towering cumulus clouds about 4000' AGL meant the air was unstable and that there could be some turbulence.

Today the active was Runway 23, and the takeoff roll was a wee bit longer because of the density altitude of 2400'. Density altitude is the pressure altitude (the reading on your altimeter if set to the standard value of 29.92" Hg) adjusted for temperature to arrive at a theoretical value of what altitude the plane "thinks" it's at. The basic skinny here is that the higher the density altitude, the more runway the plane will need to take off.

We take off, and turn to the north toward Juneau. We level off at 4000' where, thankfully, it's a bit more comfortable. Then Adam does something a little uncharacteristic. He directs steep turns. Thing is, we hadn't done clearing turns yet. If you recall, clearing turns are advised before practicing maneuvers to ensure the area is clear of other aircraft. So I gently assert that we need to do our clearing turns first, and he concurs. A test, perhaps? As to the steep turns, they're getting better all the time. I lost no more than 50' at any time and I went straight from the left turn directly into the right turn. Then it was slow flight dirty, including power off stalls, then slow flight clean and stalls. The slow flight stuff still bedevils me, it's so tough to get the plane into the narrow performance range and hold it there. Even a small puff of wind pushes me off the "needle". To think the C172 is easy to fly, I can't begin to imagine how other planes react to slow flight parameters.

We're already near Dodge County Airport (KUNU), so we take advantage of minimal crosswinds to do some touch and goes on Runway 20. The first one was almost passable, which for me was a small victory since rarely has a first landing gone well at all. Three more landings of various quality, but I "greased" the third, earning a "good landing" compliment from Adam. Out of 71 recorded landings (I think there's been more) I can say with confidence that I've greased only about three of them.

Along the way back to Watertown, we finally got into some ground reference maneuvers, namely the turn around a point, and the s-turn. Far as I can tell, these maneuvers have no practical purpose in general flying, but they do serve as an exercise in workload management. The pilot is forced to divide his attention between monitoring gauges, flying the plane, and adjusting for varying wind conditions. There was more confusion in the cockpit as Adam was pointing out road intersections to turn around and I just couldn't see them. Once we got it all sorted out, the first attempt was clumsy as you can imagine. I had little idea of just what I would need to do with the plane to do the turn. After a couple of repetitions, I think I started getting the hang of it. The first try at s-turns went okay as well. S-turns are similar to turns around a point except that doing s-turns forces you to make at least one right turn.

And so we returned to Watertown. Landed Runway 23 and taxied in. More and more as I go along, it feels like driving a car. Things getting more instinctive. Not much talk in the cockpit during landings. A quick critique after each landing, then it's on to the next. So I take a couple of days off of work and wouldn't you know, the plane is going in for its annual. So no more flying until Saturday, save for a ground review lesson on Wednesday. More next time at Rich's Quest For Flight.

UPDATE: Jeez, I almost forgot to mention that I have filled in one full page of my logbook. Thirteen entries can fit on one page, so I've been up thirteen times. Isn't that supposed to be an unlucky number? Anyway, here are some totals so far: 17.6 total hours (all dual received) with 71 takeoffs and landings. Another check for $2000 to keep my account current as well. I believe that brings that total to $4500.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

KRYV 271857Z AUTO 15007KT 10SM CLR 25/21 A2988 RMK AO2

The long layoff is over, and I hope I don't go that long between flights again.

I had a really messed up travel day yesterday, resulting being stuck in Charlotte for over 7 hours. Fortunately I had my ASA Prep stuff with me, so I was able to knock out a good chunk of it. I only have one more chapter of that product to do. I'll get caught up on the Jeppesen stuff, then I'll take the practice tests. So I think I'm still on track for getting the written test out of the way by the end of June.

First time I've talked to Adam since he was married, he said everything was very nice. It had been raining for quite some time leading up to wedding day, but things cleared up just in time. Had a look at his wedding band, it had a set of wings on it.

It was warm and humid today, and once we were airborne it was quickly evident that conditions in the sky were quite different on the ground. There was quite a bit of haze, cutting visibility well below advertised. Plus, we rain through some raindrops at several points during the flight. But, all in all, my expected rustiness never surfaced. It felt really good up there today. We ran through the regular maneuvers: slow flight dirty, slow flight clean, power off stalls, power on stalls, steep turns left and right. Nothing perfect, but nothing really drastically wrong, either.

Then it was landing practice on Runway 20 at Dodge County (UNU). Short field takeoff, soft field landing, then soft field takeoff followed by a touch and go. Then it was back to Watertown, but a simulated engine failure came first. Worked through the checklist and recovered. Did one touch and go on Runway 11, went around the pattern then landed and parked.

A very quick 1.3 hours. And it felt really good. The rough edges are less rough, and outside of one final approach that was a little too slow, there were no major faults. I have one more chance to fly (on Monday) then the plane goes in for its annual. Adam advised me to sign up for a ground session in the meantime, so I'll do that Wednesday.

After we were done, I hung out on the ramp for a few minutes, watching some of the transient traffic heading back out after (presumably) having their $100 hamburgers. And the single major thought running through my head? Damn! I want a plane!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

An update for those who might be curious what's been going on. As mentioned in the previous post, there has been no flying for the past week and won't be for another. My instructor, Adam, was married yesterday and is taking some well deserved time off. Congratulations to him and all the best wishes.

In the meantime, I've been hitting the books getting ready for the knowledge test. In the Jeppesen Private Pilot Manual (more like a college textbook), I'm now into the later chapters, currently the chapter on weather products. Since my college degree is in Meteorology, this is not new material to me. What I am ensuring by reviewing those chapters is to make sure I am on the same page when it comes to describing the various products and the terminology. What remains in the textbook then is the section on performance and navigation, a very important section, and the section on integrating knowledge and skills.

I am also in the later sections of the ASA Test Prep course as well. I've become less impressed with this product as I've gone along. The basic delivery techniques do not change, and that repetitiveness has begun watching these videos a bit of a chore. The transitions are all the same, the graphics vary little (and, in some cases, repeated quite frequently), and I now know every annoying habit of the presenters. The $100 I spent on the course remains a good value, but if I were doing it again, I would give a serious look at the Sporty's Private Pilot Course for $179 or perhaps even going for the King Schools Private Pilot Exam Course at $279. I have seen samples of both, and at the very least they are no worse than the ASA product. One feature both of those have that you may find useful are the progress tracking features that the ASA product does not have.

My next lesson is Saturday, with another scheduled for Memorial Day. Then it'll be another week until the next time in the plane, since 02E is going into maintenance on Tuesday (presumably for its 100 hour check). I feel confident that one of the next two lessons will be the first solo, but I won't make any predictions. So stay tuned, and thanks for stopping by Rich's Quest For Flight.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Low Ceiling

Low Ceiling
Originally uploaded by richmanwisco.

We seem to be prescient when it comes to predicting the weather. Adam decided last Sunday that today would be a ground lesson, and there you have it, it rained anyway. We actually got quite a bit accomplished today in just an hour and a half.

During the week I worked on my ASA test prep in the aircraft performance section. That covered weight and balance, and aircraft performance. So we reviewed that tonight in the specific case of good old 02E. It was a small kick in the head when, calculating weight and balance for 02E we found that with a full tank of gas and Adam and myself as the only occupants, we didn't miss maxing out the weight by a whole lot. So if I plan of taking the whole family up, we're going to have to offload some gas.

We also looked over the Operating Handbook for the Cessna 172N. It has tons and tons of important information on the aircraft and its systems. It's important for me to be familiar with it because the examiner will ask me any number of questions about the airplane in which I will be taking my checkride.

Finally, we reviewed the pre-solo written test. Adam was very pleased with it and my verbal responses to his questions. So I'm getting ever so close to my first solo, except one thing. Adam's getting married next weekend, so it might be another couple of weeks before I get back in the plane. So in the meantime, I'm going to hit the books and try to complete the practice tests so that he can sign off that I'm ready to take the FAA knowledge exam. I've set myself a goal of taking the exam by the end of June, but earlier would be nice.

So there we are. I'll find a way to get some content in here during this break of sorts. Take care for now.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

KRYV 071755Z AUTO 20009KT 10SM CLR A2999 RMK AO2

I am having a hard time trying to recall better weather than what we've had this weekend. Yesterday was a hard day only in that I wish I were flying. Instead, I attended the wedding of the girl across the street (more here).

Sorry to disappoint, but there were no near misses today, nor were there any moments of utter exasperation. A good, solid hour-and-a-half of further learning.

Runway 23 was the active at KRYV today, and we were up and on our way to a new practice field. Things were bumpy until we reached 4000'. On the way, some slow flight practice. This slow flight stuff is frustratingly hard to do. I've written about this before, the envelope that you're operating in and trying to attain is difficult to get to. It was slow flight clean that was kicking my butt. So there's plenty to work on there.

By the time Adam let me off the hook (this time) we were over Palmyra Municipal Airport (88C). I wouldn't have known it if he hadn't pointed it out. I was quite disoriented, and nearly openly wondering how I could possibly do a cross country flight on dead reckoning alone. So there it was, a bunch of buildings. You can't tell where the runway is, because it looks like a big open grass field from the air. It was busy, too. Three planes were in the pattern around this grass field airstrip; things were getting quite surreal. The pattern was 800' AGL as opposed to 1000' AGL, so that would take some adjustment as well. By the time I entered the downwind, the traffic was on the ground, so one less thing to worry about. As with the first time with the other airports I've landed at, I had no visual cues to work with; I only had the runway to judge my pattern by. And there would be no doubt this would be a soft field landing, so 40 degrees of flaps would be in order. We were landing on Runway 27, so the crosswind component was minimal. Good thing, too, this whole landing on green stuff was a counterintuitive feeling. All I had to tell me where the runway started were three white cones on either edge. Oh, by the way, there's a road passing across the field less than 200 yards from the threshold with actual vehicles, too!

So we get the plane down, and I admit Adam did most of the work. We held the nose up as long as possible until we were slow enough to turn off of the runway. It was quite a different sensation than landing on a hard surface. There was no "chirp" like you hear when the tire touches, and certainly no sense that the landing was hard or soft. Just a series of, well, lumps. There was a taxiway that ran parallel to the left edge of the runway, and it was nice to have something smooth to roll on after the lumpiness of the runway. We taxied back to the top of the runway, pushed the carb heat back in, and set the flaps for 10 degrees for a soft field take off. Off to the right it looked like they were having a picnic or something, perhaps some of the local pilots offering "Young Eagles" rides. That would explain all of the traffic.

Entering the runway from the top, it was quickly apparent why a pilot should apply power and keep the plane moving, because the field tends to slow the plane down very quickly. So I added extra power, turned so I was roughly on the center line, pulled back the yoke, pushed the throttle in, and we were moving. Once off the ground, I'm supposed to level the plane so that I can gain speed while still in ground effect. That is also a difficult thing to do since the plane wants to go up. And it's against instinct to point the plane anywhere close to the ground. So that will take some more practice until I'm used to it.

We went around the pattern one more time, and landed, then taxied back to the top, took off again, and then turned north out of the pattern back toward Watertown. By the time we were within three miles, there were three or so planes hovering around the airport. The CTAF frequency was crackling with traffic; pilots reporting their positions around the pattern, even some cross communication between planes. It's a bit difficult to explain here, but I am really gaining an appreciation for the importance of knowing where you are and reporting it concisely on the frequency. This is not something I experience during our weekday lessons.

So here was the hitch today. I'll be landing into a left crosswind component, so I need to turn final earlier than usual. Backing up a little bit, it becomes quickly apparent that a thermal has set up over the base leg that wants to push the plane up. That meant I turned final high every time (we made 3 landings on 23 today). But this time, Adam only mentioned anything about it the first time. And by the time he said anything, I was already compensating. Power almost to idle, pitch to slow to 65 kts, then some power back in and assume the proper glide slope. Straight down the centerline, except I leveled just a bit early and a puff of wind pushed the plane slightly to the right, causing me to correct to the left before letting the wheel touch the ground. Then it was back up again, two more times. Those last two landings, Adam said very little. Partly because, each time I turned final it said, "I'm high again, cutting power and pitching" before he could remind me. I wasn't trying to be annoying, I was speaking out loud so that he knew exactly what I was thinking. And it seemed to work.

After landing the last time, and completing the after landing checks, we parked in front of the FBO and deplaned. Back inside, Adam said we'll spend more time the next couple of lessons catching up on ground work. After that, it'll be solo time. Today's landings must have assured him that I'm very close. Those magic words. It's getting closer folks. Checking the logbook, I'm now up to 14.9 hours. Only one downside. After my lesson on Friday, which looks like a ground lesson, there will be a two week break while Adam gets married. Which is great for him, naturally.

Today felt good. Very good. More work needed on slow flight and soft field landings. Darn near proficient on landings, except I'm still leveling just a little early. Let's hope I don't get rusty over the break. So tune in Friday to see what happens next at Rich's Quest For Flight.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

KRYV 042357Z AUTO 30009G15KT 10SM SCT060 A2994 RMK AO2

In rugby, they call them "the hard yards".

On an Army obstacle course, it's called "the dirty name."

I don't know if there's a name for it in aviation, but doing touch and goes in gusty conditions directly into the setting sun has to be something. This much I will say: tonight's lesson tested my resolve. There were a couple of times when I wanted to walk away, except I couldn't; I was flying an airplane. But by the time we landed for the last time and pulled up to the pumps, I felt like I actually did something good.

Nine knots may not seem like much, but the gusty conditions and boundary layer turbulence did not sit well with 02E, tossing and heaving back and forth during each climbout. She made noises and acted every bit the old training craft that she was. Tough conditions, to be sure. Now shine the setting sun straight in so that seeing the gauges is next to impossible not to mention trying to see the runway through the streaked windscreen. Have I missed any of the sensory inputs? If either of us had farted, it could've spelt disaster.

Okay, perhaps not.

Eight approaches we made to Runway 29, seven times we landed. On the third approach, I was way high. When I turned final I was nearly 300' higher than I needed to be, with not enough room to get it down soon enough and still slow to the proper speed for landing. So, for the first time, I announced I was going around. Flash back to Tuesday. On one approach, I leveled with the plane going too fast, and I floated halfway down the runway. I put it down, and cleaned up again for take off, but Adam mentioned (in a constructive critique) that he might have waived it off. That struck a chord with me. It's OK to swallow your pride if it isn't right. A little humility now might save a life later. And in a way, I'm trying to show Adam that I can make decisions in difficult situations. I want him to feel like he doesn't need to be there. I am trying to prove that I am ready for solo.

After the seventh landing, Adam directed me to set up for Runway 23. Landing Runway 29 involved a minor 10 degree crosswind. Now I will be dealing with a 70 degree crosswind from the right. It was as if, after a 5 mile run, I was being asked to run a set of 50 yard gassers. I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and re-mapped the winds in my mind. At least this runway is the longer runway, so I had more time to mentally prepare during the downwind. The winds, though not as gusty now, were still pushing the plane around. Depending on the leg, I'm pointing 20 to 30 degrees off line just to track correctly. The first landing wasn't too bad; a slight confidence boost. I felt good climbing out. I reduce power as I pass the numbers and start my descent. But then it all starts going wrong. A series of updrafts keep the plane from descending. Now I'm high even though I reduce power to try to let her sink. I'm still high as I turn final, and now I'm preoccupied with getting her down. I ignore my speed, and I don't even remember if I put in the last notch of flaps. I cross the threshold at the right height, but 15 knots too fast. I level off, and she floats. And floats. Land, dammit! Then, Adam calls "go around". Shit. Power in, start to climb, carb heat in, flaps up. NO!!! Just as I catch myself, Adam fixes the flaps, then gives the closest thing to a lecture that I've gotten since I started flying. Always, ALWAYS, bring the flaps up incrementally. Taking them all out at once will cost you your lift and your plane will stop flying. Even though it was for just an instant, I had caused an unsafe situation. I was pissed. I felt lower than whale scum. I kicked myself in the ass during the whole climbout. I had to get myself together.

I brought her around, made a pretty good landing, and it was up one last time. Adam gave me a pep talk, complimenting me on the last landing. Landed on the center line, with the windward wheel touching first. Continued around the pattern, and set up for final one last time. But once again, I was a little fast and a little high. This time, I took out more power than usual to correct, and at least got the plane at the proper glide slope. But I was still fast. More power out. But this time, instead of porpoising as I had in the past, I gently leveled her off, letting the speed bleed off. Sure, I was floating a little, but this time the plane settled down nicely as I flared at just the right height and she touched down just as the stall horn sounded. A good landing.

So after tearing myself apart, I built myself back up. We had a philosophy in the Army that you trained in the most difficult conditions as possible. Tonight was difficult. It was downright hard. But I'm okay with it. I know I will be a better pilot for the trouble.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

KRYV 022335Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM SCT070 A2992 RMK AO2

Tonight, this pilot almost became a statistic. Twice.

The weather was just wonderful. No wind. Land on the longest runway. Which seemed to cause some people some problems.

It's routine now. Check out the plane. Preflight. Engine start. Before takeoff checks. We took off from Runway 29 and depart the pattern to the north, toward Dodge County Airport. So smooth, the climbout was almost relaxing. We get to 4000' and level off for some maneuvers. Clearing turns first, then into steep turns. But once again doggone it, I don't quite have the speed right and I start losing altitude. And once you start going down, it's hard to get back up, since nearly half of the lift generated by the wing is turning the plane. Put in some throttle and hope for the best. The right steep turn wasn't as bad, but I turned out a little late. Taking these lessons in the evening means that the sun is setting, so there's no trouble figuring out where west is. But I also can't see my gauges from the glare. In fact, I can't see much of anything in the sun glare. Next was slow flight in the landing configuration. Seemed like it took forever to configure the plane for slow flight. The envelope that I'm flying in is very narrow. With flaps down, I have to maintain altitude while holding the speed just above stall. With the angle of attack already high, if I pitch up higher, the plane will stall. It's almost like flying while standing still. So I finally get there, and I'm directed to make a turn to the left, then pull power and stall. A turning stall it is. Except that in anticipating the imminent stall, I level the wings early, and then stall. What can I say, I'm a cautious flyer.

As we recover, we're over Dodge County Airport (KUNU). Adam pulls the throttle and I've lost my engine. Time once again for the ABC. Pitch for best glide Airspeed of 65kts. Look for your Best landing option. We already were over the airport, no problem there. Then, perform the engine failure Checklist. All that done, it was just a matter of bleeding off enough altitude so we can make our turn for final. Once the runway was assured, then put the flaps in, pitch for landing airspeed, and land. And thus was the first touch and go of a sequence of at least five for the day at KUNU. On the next 3 circuits I made my turn for final late each time. I also kept coming in high. I must concentrate better. Then Adam reminded me of the optimal speeds for our descent sequence. Once power is reduced, put in first notch of flaps, then pitch for 85kts. Turn to base, next notch, pitch for 75 kts. Then on final, last notch, pitch for 65kts. I know he said this way back when, but now it was finally clicking in my mind. 85-75-65. Simple as that. My mental checklist is now that much better.

After a soft field, then short field, and they were both the best of the type so far. But, seeing as all my previous tries at those were so bad, it's not saying too much. But the improvement continues. So now on the next circuit we're going to set up for a high approach so that we can practice a forward slip. A forward slip is a way of turning the airplane sideways in the air, causing the wind to flow at an angle over the wing instead of straight over it, resulting in reduced lift and a quick loss in altitude. If everything works right, you get down fast, but without gaining too much speed, just in time to straighten her out and land normally.

We were using Runway 26 at Dodge County, and during our downwind leg we heard a plane call that they were on the right downwind for Runway 20. All runways at Dodge County are left pattern, so we were on alert. No problem, except that neither us could see the plane. We continue, and I begin my turn to base. Just then, the other plane appears on our left, heading the wrong way from where he announced his position. Adam takes the plane, puts in full throttle and breaks out of the pattern to the right. Adam politely got on the radio to "help" the other pilot find his bearings as we did a circle turn to give the other pilot a chance to unscrew himself. At worst, we were about 300 yards apart at our closest encounter.

So after another circuit at Dodge County we had back south to Watertown. On the way, another engine failure. I waffle on my selection of landing site, but the routine is getting better. We approach the airport from over the city and enter the upwind for Runway 23. Once again, despite the conditions, I just don't have my act together, and I enter the final high and fast. Adam points out how it all began by not getting configured right prior to the base, which led to an error during base and an error during final. The mistakes piled up and made for a poor landing. One more mental inventory, and the second landing is much better. Time for one more circuit. The sun has set, and conditions are perfect. This one is going to be all mine.

As I climb from the runway, another C172 announces on traffic that he's entering the downwind for Runway 23. No sweat, I look toward my 8 o'clock as I climb on the upwind. No visual. I look again as I turn crosswind; he should be about 9 o'clock. Still nothing. I level off at pattern altitude and reduce power to cruise as I turn to downwind. Now I catch him and announce I have visual contact, but wait. That's a LANDING LIGHT! He's heading straight for us. No sooner do I realize it then I begin turning to the right at the same time Adam is kicking the throttle in and taking the plane. This yokel was on the wrong side of the runway heading in the opposite direction from what he announced. Separation was maybe 200 yards. You could read his tail number. A close call indeed. Adam got on the horn to point out the other pilot's mistake, and once he was satisfied that the other plane was no longer a danger to us, we resumed the pattern and set up for landing. With my wits back together, I brought 02E in for the best landing of the day. We didn't plan for a situational awareness lesson, but we sure did get one, and it turned out to be a positive thing. I reacted correctly to the situation, so that's a feather in my cap.

I didn't want to land tonight. Conditions were so nice and, near misses aside, I was really doing well and improving on each pass. I could have run the tanks dry if it didn't cost so much. I am at the point now where I can think through all of these maneuvers, yet I can't quite string it all together. It's getting better all the time, but incrementally slow. For instance, Adam rarely needs to correct my rudder inputs any longer. Now we're just finessing things as opposed to making big corrections. Calm days work wonders for the confidence. I am more relaxed more often during flight. And yes, that incident resulted in the consumption of a fine lager beer. Next lesson is Thursday, and I can't wait. Join me then!