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.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Today was a short ground session with Adam to do our initial flight planning for my first cross country flight. Adam has selected Sheboygan County Memorial Airport (KSBM) as our first destination, 53 nautical miles northeast of Watertown. Armed with the current weather, we planned as though we were flying this evening. The flight is relatively short, so planning began with a straight plot on a sectional chart and determination of the true course. The true course is converted into a magnetic then compass heading by correction for wind and magnetic deviation and variation. Then, checkpoints are selected on the route to help in verifying our location and speed. Performance data gives us cruise speed, climb and fuel burn information. We also looked along the route for potential alternate airports in case of emergency or sudden bad weather. So, based on our calculations, it should take us 29 minutes at an altitude of 3500' MSL (based on most favorable winds aloft), and fuel consumption of 4.74 gallons.

Saturday morning we'll calculate the data all over again and fly it for real. And then, as soon as I get back, we'll be leaving on a camping trip to, that's right, the Sheboygan area. Too bad we can't pack the gear in the plane.

Friday, June 23, 2006

KRYV 232256Z AUTO 11003KT 10SM CLR 22/09 A3015 RMK AO2

My business trip this week was to the Phoenix, where the average daily high temperature was around 110F (43C). Boy was it ever nice to get back to Wisconsin, then to fly on a superior night like this. In fact, I wasn't even expecting to fly since Adam said after my solo that we'd get into flight planning for our cross country work. But you can't blame him for not passing up an afternoon like this. So there's the reason why he asked me when I walked in if I had done any grass landings yet. I said that I had, but certainly not since I really learned how to land. So with our excuse for flying I went out to preflight the plane, and then we were off.

We headed south to Palmyra (88C) and set up to enter the pattern for landing on Runway 9. Things were a lot different at Palmyra this time compared to the first time I was there. Then there was a lot of activity around the field, with planes taking off frequently for rides and such. This time we had the place to ourselves, mostly. This first landing went very well. A plot of trees about 800 feet in front of the runway gave us a bit of a thermal pop, which left us a little high for landing, but that was easily corrected. The second landing was quite satisfactory as well.

After the next takeoff, I spotted a plane directly ahead and above. There wasn't any traffic on the CTAF, so I had no idea what this plane was up to. Then it turned toward us and was descending. I quickly turned the plane to crosswind and put that plane behind us. Just then did the other pilot announce that he was also entering the pattern and that he had me in sight. Also turned out it was the airplane that took off from Watertown after we did. So I got our plane around and landed, and exited the runway as soon as I could. This landing wasn't as neat, landing a little flat without a good flare, but it worked. We climbed out and headed back north to Watertown.

Along the way I found an intersection to practice my turns around a point. It was really pretty easy, and we agreed that this is something I can work on by myself as I build my solo hours. So we landed in Watertown and pulled up to the pumps. The plane was being rented for the whole weekend, so there's no further flying this weekend.

Everything feels great. I'm still buzzing from last Sunday's solo. Now the challenge will be to not get complacent or overconfident. I don't think it'll be a problem. Next lesson will be a ground lesson on Monday, see you all then. Thanks to all who have passed along their best wishes, I really appreciate it.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

KRYV 182356Z AUTO 22009KT 10SM CLR 24/23 A2982 RMK AO2

This evening, after 22.4 hours of dual instruction, 95 landings, and several ego bruises, it is official: I HAVE SOLOED!! And what a feeling it was!

Things didn't look so promising this morning; the weather was gray and rainy. And the rain didn't clear out until close to 3:00 p.m., which was 3 hours before the lesson. In fact, Hartford (where my office is located, about 25 miles from Watertown) was hit by a small tornado, causing some damage. But things continued to improve even as I walked into the FBO. A line of showers building west of Madison was weakening, and the ceiling over the field was lifting.

Adam had me check the crosswind component and aircraft performance parameters and then I did the preflight on the plane. The winds were quite fluky - variable and a bit gusty. We were airborne off of Runway 23, and I knew that if I could give him some good landings, he would get out of the plane. But the winds were playing tricks with me. The first landing was ok, but a late gust from the left of the plane on the second landing pushed me a little to the right and crooked. The third wasn't any better, and I was slower than I should have been because I was more fixated on keeping straight than paying attention to my speed. I could feel my solo opportunity slipping away. But then the fourth and fifth landings were trouble free, and my confidence surged. After the sixth, Adam directed me back to the ramp. It was time. He got out of the plane, endorsed my logbook, and told me to perform three takeoffs and landings, each to a full stop with taxi back to the runway.

There was no perceptible increase in my heartrate, nor did I have a panic attack. It was more like "it's showtime". And then the plane wouldn't start. Cranked once for 6 seconds. Pushed the throttle in and pulled it out. Cranked again. Throttle in and out. One more time. Nothing. So I hit one shot of primer and tried again. This time it finally cranked over. That turned out the be the most difficult part of the flight! Taxied back out to 23, and I did the engine runup checks just for good measure. The oil pressure gauge showed low pressure at low rpm, so it wasn't a bad idea to run at higher rpm just to make sure it came into the green range.

I announced my takeoff on CTAF, and I moved onto the runway. Once I lined up, I held the brakes, took a deep breath and advanced the throttle. Once it got to 2000 rpm, I checked the gauges, then let the brakes go and pushed the throttle all the way in. Right rudder, 40 then 50 knots, rotate at 54 and airborne at 59. Level some to increase speed to Vy and I was on my way. Adam said the plane would be lively without him in it, and he was right. I was up to 1500' in no time, and I was turning to crosswind probably a full minute before I usually did. Everything felt really comfortable. As I reached the end of the runway before turning base, I reminded myself of my pattern speeds. Eighty-five, seventy-five, sixty-five. I turned to final, keyed the mike to activate the glide slope indicator and kept a hand on the throttle. Everything lined up perfectly. The wind was behaving. I crossed the threshold right at 65 kts. I pulled the throttle out, leveled the plane and bled off the speed. As she sank I pulled back on the yoke. Left main touch, right main touch, lower the nose gear. It was my best landing ever.

And the sweetest.

I couldn't slow before the first taxiway, so I coasted to the next. I could feel the elation building. I shouted something I can't repeat here. Turned off the runway, lowered the flaps, and headed back up the taxiway to the top. The second trip around was just as perfect (to me). What a nice landing. One more to go. I tried for a more artistic flare on the last landing, and I got a little crooked and also floated it just a little. But no hard or crooked landings. No go arounds. It couldn't have gone any better.

So the solo is done. I am now competent enough to fly an airplane. Now onto the next phase: cross country flight. Is the hard part over? Or is it yet to come? We shall see. Thanks for staying with me.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

KRYV 172236Z AUTO 20016G22KT 10SM SCT070 BKN095 30/18 A2980 RMK AO2

You may (or may not) have noticed that there was no post for last Sunday. You know, the day I was supposed to solo? I also happened that Sunday was the Open House held at the airport, and 02E was being used for rides. Sure enough, during the day, the starter broke and the plane went out of service. I got a phone call from the airport saying the lesson had to be cancelled. Ugh. And the weather was perfect, too. I'd have to wait a week before my next chance. It was quite a let down.

Today's lesson didn't get off to a great start. I thought the lesson was at six, and my cell phone went off at 4:30. I had read the schedule wrong. I was late for my lesson! To top that, we are in advance of a front and we had very strong southerly winds. Given the runway configuration at KRYV, the worst winds to have are gusty from north or south. So I knew I wouldn't be soloing, my solo endorsement is for a maximum 6 knot crosswind component. I was worried we would fly at all. But Adam said not to worry, he'll do the landing, let's get up and practice maneuvers.

It wasn't a good omen when, during preflight, the plane started moving backward when I lowered the flaps. The wheels weren't chocked, and I had to put the parking brake on. Takeoff was like a bad farm road - the plane was all over the place. All you can do is work with what the wind gives you, don't fight it, or you'll find yourself upside down. With the tailwind, it took us no time at all to get to the maneuver area. Then we went through what is now the standard routine: clearing turns, steep turns, slow flight dirty, power off stall, slow flight clean, power on stall. And it was all, well, easy. It was fun. We did the slow flight dirty into the wind, and I swear the wind was pushing us backward. What a hoot! Wasn't much else to do, so we headed back.

And it took a while. Took at least 15 minutes to cover the last 10 miles, heading into the wind. We eventually made it back to KRYV, entered the pattern (flying sideways in the crosswind leg), then I set it up for Adam and turned the plane over to him for landing. Damn he made it look so easy. But I wasn't about to chance it. The whole flight was fun. So as long as the winds are good tomorrow, then I'm soloing. Adam feels good. I feel good. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 09, 2006

KRYV 092356Z AUTO 09007KT 10SM OVC090 12/12 A3006 RMK AO2

I had been grinding myself all week, waiting for a chance to redeem myself after last Sunday's debacle. If I could just get some practice in tonight, with the tips I took away from the last lesson, then I should solo on Sunday.

The weather deteriorated as the day wore on, to the point where there was light rain when I got to the airport. Adam was running a little late with the earlier student (who happens to be my dentist), so I was left to sulk in the lounge area watching the weather get worse. Just an hour earlier the METAR was reporting a ceiling of 3300' AGL, just higher than minimums. I even brought my textbook with me, certain we were going to do ground school. To top it off, more rain seemed to be heading in from the northwest.

So when Adam came out and told me we can get some circuits in, my mind jumped. I had to reframe my brain, if you will, and get in the plane. But that's why the preflight walkaround is so useful. It really gets you focused. That said, I still fumbled at bit with the seatbelt while strapping in. We made our way to Runway 11, and we were off.

First time around, I had to lose a little altitude just before touchdown, I picked up too much speed, and floated a little down the runway. But it was straight. The second landing, not a full flare, a three point landing. A little right of the center line. But it was straight. Remember to aim for the numbers and pull power as you pass over them, Adam says. Next landing. Perfect. Now I had it. I had my sight picture fixed. My speed was right, and my flare was right. It was all right. And so it was. Six landings, all straight.

After the last landing, as we head back to the taxiway, Adam gives me the "nice job" compliment. Now that I could relax, all I could say was, "Wow!" It was the best hour I've had in a plane yet. I finally feel like I have it locked in. Give me three clean on Sunday, Adam says, and you're soloing.

We shall see.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

KRYV 050055Z AUTO 00000KT 10SM CLR 21/11 A3000 RMK AO2

Around about 5:30 p.m., after we got back from the Brewers game, I got a phone call on my cell phone from Adam. He was letting me know that another instructor (Andy) would be flying with me. A pre-solo checkride, if you will. I kind of half expected this, and I felt pretty good about it. Why not send your student up with another instructor to get a second opinion? And with the winds totally calm, it should be a snap, right?

Andy was waiting for me when I walked into the FBO. I had checked the weather at home, so I laid some of that knowledge on him, just to show I was prepared and in the right frame of mind. He told me that we'll go up, walk through the basic maneuvers, then come back to Watertown for a few landings. He also said he doesn't plan on touching any controls.

We take off Runway 11 and head north. As it would happen, Adam was in another plane in the area, and we actually exchanged communications to make sure we weren't going to be in each other's way. So, Andy had me go through the motions. The steep turns went great, the slow flight clean and dirty. No major issues. I felt sharp. A bit of a hiccup during the power-on stall. My lack of a strong right foot on the rudder caused the plane to slip to the left; the first time that has happened to me. But now I knew why. Adam had a tendency to help me in situations like that; he would put in the rudder for me. But Andy stayed off the rudder. I was on my own. Andy had me do it again, this time I stomped the rudder and the plane stayed straight into the stall.

We headed back to Watertown, and on the way he pulled my power. I went through the checklist, then he made me sweat. He didn't let me recover until we were less than 500' from the ground. I had the field lined up pretty good though. He tried a couple of other mind games, like changing the ADF frequency so that the needle was pointing away from Watertown. So I enter the pattern, still no wind, I should really grease these landings. Alas, right rudder would be my downfall. First landing I came over the threshold right at 65 kts, but I was crooked, and by the time I straightened out I was right of the centerline. Bobble number 1. Now I'm finally getting nervous. I put the throttle in before raising flaps; a mental error. Then, on the downwind leg, Andy pulls power, then tells me this is a soft field. I did fine to get the plane around on final and over the threshold, but then my brain fried. I concentrated more on the soft field landing then on just landing. After all, it was an emergency. So while I was trying to keep the nose up, I flared early and stalled the damn thing. The last five feet were straight down. DAMN! Then I rushed to clean the plane up to take off, and I was squirelly on the runway and it was all wrong. Andy tried to settle me by saying that we landed and that was the important part. But I was shaken. We went around one more time, and I made a reasonably good landing, but the damage was done. I still had work to do. It just seems everything is great until the last 10 feet.

Once we were parked, we went inside and Andy debriefed me. Good comments for the most part, and the obvious issues with landings. He did have some different takes on establishing good sight pictures of the runway that I will put to use. And now I know much better just how much rudder I need. Adam came in after he was done with his student and asked if I was ready. And the answer was: almost. Somehow I have to shake this yoke so that I can solo and then move on with the next phases. And it's all I can think about. I'll try not to psyche myself out.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

KRYV 031455Z AUTO 03006KT 10SM CLR 19/16 A3007 RMK AO2

What a beautiful morning. Arrive at the FBO just as it's opening. The plane was still in the hanger, fresh from its service. Adam came in after I did, and he immediately asks me to complete a crosswind component, a weight and balance, and takeoff and landing distances. I just happened to be working on it last night, so it was still fresh in my mind. So once I work out the gross aircraft weight, I show him my figures, and he says that seems heavy for one occupant. Translated: I'm not in the plane with you. My eyes glazed for a second as the thought rushed through my mind: is this it? Is this the solo? My breath shortens a bit and my mouth dries out as I complete the preflight calculations. He tells me to call for a weather briefing and I can't remember the number. I get that sorted out and call the FSS in Green Bay. This was the first time I've called for a weather briefing, and I wasn't sure what to expect. As it turned out, they do use actual humans for the briefings. I gave him my aircraft registration number (N9002E) and my flight intentions. He read back the current weather conditions at Watertown as well as the Terminal Aerodrome Forecast (TAF) for Madison (KMSN). Additionally, he gave me the winds aloft for 3000'. The dispatch is ready, and I head to the plane and start the preflight. At the same time, Adam took my log book back to his office for a few moments.

I took my time with the preflight inspection for two reasons. One, I need to calm down a little and two, since this plane just came out of service, I wanted to have a good close look. The door latch works better, they fixed the baggage door, fresh tires all around and a new exhaust pipe. All of the bugs have been cleaned off of the wings and windshield. Then Adam comes out and starts to get into the plane. So there you have it, no solo today.

All we did today was practice landings at Watertown. Adam is really trying to get me dialed in, and for some reason I'm not cleaning up as well as I would like. Runway 5 was today's runway, with the right hand pattern. Most of the landings were standard, but we did do some interesting things. One time Adam had me land without flaps, which proved interesting. Because the angle of attack is lower, the nose appears to sit up higher and the visual picture is quite different. There was a power off landing to simulate engine failure. A soft field landing as well. My main faults at this time are a tendency to come in too fast over the threshold and not using enough right rudder, causing crooked landings. Adam feels I'm about an hour away from soloing, so that's cool. And what did he do with my logbook? Well, he added the endorsements required for me to legally fly a solo flight. So all other requirements have been met; it's just about time to do it.

Next lesson is tomorrow. I didn't originally have a lesson planned, but Adam suggested it, so I'm doing it. I do love to fly!