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.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

KRYV 160235Z AUTO 22004KT 10SM CLR 24/23 A3006 RMK AO2
This was an event I was fairly nervous about. I haven't made any night landings to this point, and we were going to 2 airports that I was unfamiliar with. So in a way I was relieved when Adam told me that we would just fly up to Dodge County and do some landings there. I put up a mild protest, especially after all that planning, but I knew this would be a better option. But just to show I did the homework, I showed Adam my planning sheets and asked him some questions about checkpoint selection for night flights. Mostly, I selected checkpoints that would have some kind of lighting (towns, water towers), and I since I have two VOR radios, I derived fixes for them in case I couldn't see them. A fix is simply intersecting VOR radials. Set the OBS for one radial on one gauge and the other OBS for the other VOR radial on the second gauge. When the needles indicate that I am on each radial, then I'm at my fix.

It was still a bit warm as I preflighted the plane, but there were only puffs of breeze disturbing the still air. We started up and headed out to Runway 23 while there was still some light in the sky. As we climbed out of Watertown and turned to Juneau, it felt as though we were the only thing in the sky. The radios were silent and the winds were calm. Then came the first noticeable difference between day and night flight. No sooner were we at 1500' then we could already see the rotating beacon at Juneau, about 12 miles away. Clyman, our informal checkpoint, was lit up and much easier to find than in the day.

Within minutes we were in the pattern for Runway 26. The winds favored 20, but we opted for 26 to avoid flying over houses, and the light breeze would give us an easy crosswind component. Dodge County has approach lighting for Runway 26, but I discovered it was quite bright at full intensity. Adam did me a favor and keyed the mike to turn it down and I could see better. I came in slightly high and floated slightly, landing flat instead of fully flared. But it wasn't bad for a first night landing. I cleaned up and took off for the next go round. Another night observation is that familiar reference points on the ground for the pattern are not visible at night, so I used the heading indicator to judge each leg of the pattern. The second landing earned a favorable comment from Adam, and he would bring me back to earth the next time around.

This time, as I was focusing outside the plane, Adam reached over and turned off the landing light. So now on final all I could see was the approach lighting and the runway edge lighting, but I had no idea where the threshold was. Here's how it went. Flaps to full, keep some power in. Maintain the total picture vision-wise and gently fly the plane into the ground. We went long, and it was a little unnerving, but it was quite safe. On the final two landings, we left the approach lighting on full because I have to get accustomed to it sooner or later.

On the way back to Watertown, Adam took the plane and told me to close my eyes. After performing some maneuvers, and just as the stall horn sounded, he gave the plane back to me. Quickly I had to ascertain the attitude of the plane and recover from the stall. Similar stuff the second time, this time the plane was descending quickly and I had to recover from the dive. The third time I must have had my eyes closed for a minute, and by the time I got the plane back, I was totally disoriented. All Adam said was, "take us home". I suspected he played with the instruments, and my suspicions were confirmed. But that was after I looked at the compass first. I was over a town heading north and Watertown was south. The town was Juneau. I glimpsed ahead and I spotted fireworks off on the horizon. Boy this was fun!

I turned the plane south and fixed the gauges. Watertown was bright in the distance and getting brighter by the minute. We set up for Runway 23 and entered the pattern. The first landing was a bit of adventure. Whereas the runway markings at Dodge County were in good condition, the markings for Watertown are well faded. They barely showed under the landing light once we crossed the fence, and I was high when I pulled the power. I flared when I thought I should, but it was actually about 6 feet higher. Result? Hard landing. Should have added some power. I pulled off the runway at the turn off, and asked Adam our next move. He gave me the option. I wanted another shot. So it was back up to the top and once more around the patch. The second landing was much better, and we took 02E to the ramp. It was a fine 1.5 hours in the air, probably the most fun flying so far.

As we pushed the plane over her parking spot and tied her down, I paused for a moment to take in emptiness of the sky, the still air settling with moisture. A deep, satisfying breath. I could get to really enjoy night flying.

No lessons scheduled at the moment. Oshkosh kicks off next weekend, and the skies over Watertown are going to be crowded with traffic starting Thursday. That, and Adam is taking some time to go home and to Oshkosh. A break at this point isn't the worst thing in the world. I have to get my written test done, so I have time to prep. So I'll look at the weekend of the 28th for the next trip. Thanks again for stopping by.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

KRYV 092357Z AUTO 25007KT 10SM SCT060 SCT110 27/22 A2981 RMK AO2

Today was a watching day. Watching the weather, of course. The day started off clear, but ominously humid. As the heat built up during the day, clouds started appearing overhead and storms started to fire up north and west. I resisted washing any cars, for fear of disturbing the rain gods. I had the plane reserved for 6 p.m., and it wasn't looking good.

A light shower passed overhead as I pulled into the airport parking lot. Adam met me inside and we agreed that I should just fly around the patch a few times. He said he's be leaving shortly and bid me a good flight.

I got the plane pre-flighted as quickly as I could, and I fired it up and made my way to Runway 23. The skies seemed to be getting darker by the second. The winds were well within my parameters, though, and I pulled onto the runway and pushed the throttle in. She was up quickly and I was on my way. I turned to crosswind at 1500' MSL, then to downwind a few moments later. And then....

A lightning bolt. About 5 miles to the east. That little shower that passed overhead was now a thunderstorm. The decision was easy. Just one landing today. In fact, I couldn't wait to get her on the ground. More lightning as I turned on final, and I could see the storms to the west coming in quickly. And a crappy landing, too. Sigh.

Adam was just walking out the door as I pulled up to the building. He didn't say so out loud, but I'm sure he was pleased at my decision. I sure was. And then, after I got home about 15 minutes later, the storm came and went, and everything cleared up. Darn the luck.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

KRYV 081237Z AUTO 20004KT 10SM CLR 17/17 A3019 RMK AO2
KSBM 081253Z AUTO 20008KT 10SM CLR 21/14 A3018 RMK AO2
KATW 081245Z 23010KT 10SM SCT080 21/12 A3016

It takes a pretty important event to get me out of bed at 6 o'clock in the morning. Flying definitely qualifies as one of them. Even if it did take until 11 last night just to do the flight planning. The route again: Watertown (RYV) to Sheboygan (SBM) to Appleton (ATW) to Dodge County (UNU) and back to Watertown. Several legs, lots of checkpoints. Checkpoints can be identifiable features on the ground, or they can be a fix from navigation aids. The best checkpoints are both. Checkpoints are necessary for two reasons. One is that they help you verify that you are still on course to your destination. Second, they help the pilot to track progress to the destination in terms of speed and time flown. Since a pilot has a finite amount of fuel on board, he needs to accurately predict that he has enough to get to his destination. If the plane is taking longer to get there, the pilot will need to adjust his plan to account for the extra fuel burn. Run out of gas on the road, you pull over and call AAA. Run out of gas in the air, and it's a bad landing.

I got to Wisconsin Aviation-Watertown at 7 o'clock sharp and finished my computations based on the weather. And the weather would be fine for flying today. Light surface winds, with stronger winds at 3000', then decreasing with altitude. We would fly to Sheboygan at 3500', then 4500' to Appleton and Dodge County. The last task on the ground would be to call Green Bay Flight Service for a weather briefing and flight plan filing.

Wheels were up at 7:55 and I turned for my calculated course heading to Sheboygan. Adam sprung a surprise, declaring that the VOR radios were inoperative. Naturally, I fell for it. But it only meant that I would be using pilotage as my primary navigation method. No worries. Whereas last week I was two miles east of course before I realized it, this time the inital heading was accurate and I was on course. In fact, I flew directly over my office in Hartford. A short time later, I was ready for descent into Sheboygan. Problem was, I couldn't see the airport, and by the time I found it, I was too high. Adam cautioned me about diving into the pattern, so I broke away from my approach and did a circle turn to lose some altitude. Then it was into the pattern for landing at Sheboygan.

The first landing was marginal, so we went back around and tried it again. Seems I've gotten a little rusty on crosswind landings, and practice is always good. Adam let me have my radios back, so we set them for our leg to Appleton, and took off. This leg worried me, since it would be my first experience with a towered airport. And sure enough, I was very intimidated. There's a certain pressure, as with every other aspect of flight training, to get it right the first time. Of course it's self inflicted; the only person concerned about it was me. Neither the guy in the tower nor my instructor were too concerned. After all, tower controllers deal with students all the time, and they really are there to help. Still, I was petrified. Since flying the airplane was the first priority, I eventually leaned on Adam to talk to the tower. I was slotted number 3 to land, behind a regional jet and a Beech King Air. I was placed in a long downwind until we had visual of the King Air. Once it passed by, I was cleared to land. We had also requested touch and go's, and the tower granted it. Landing on this runway was also a new experience in that it was 150' wide - it almost left the impression that you could land on it widthwise. Certainly a different sight picture, to be sure. It was a slightly clumsy landing, but nothing unusual. I cleaned up the plane, and we left the ground.

Tower directed me to maintain a one mile upwind then execute right pattern for Runway 21. That was easy enough, and I recovered my senses enough to read the instructions back. So the next thing to do was find a point that I thought was one mile away. But about 300 yards short of that target, tower comes on to ask me when I'm going to turn! So I ackowledge and begin my turn to crosswind. There was nothing else of note until late in the downwind when tower said, "N9002E, cleared for your option." This threw me off, until Adam said I just received clearance to either land and stop, or to land and take off again. So I read back the clearance to tower and said that this would also be a touch and go with departure to the south. So a landing, then up again and now we were headed for Dodge County.

I hadn't planned the navaids very well for this leg, but this would be a combination of pilotage and dead reckoning. I could see Oshkosh in the distance as soon as I was 1000' AGL and my course passed directly over the tower. The only concern there was that I was above the ceiling of the tower airspace, so I focused on climbing the airplane until we were above 3300' MSL. At about the same time Appleton tower gave approval to change frequencies, so we thanked them for their help and we moved on. Once over Oskosh, I tuned to their VOR and fixed on a radial leading me toward Dodge County. After that, things were pretty relaxed. We were flying into a moderate headwind, so there was time for a little sightseeing.

This is the view just to the south of Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH) in Oshkosh. You can see Runway 36 on the right. At about top and center is the Experimental Aircraft Association headquarters and museum. The museum is world class and a must see for any fan of aviation. In about two weeks those fields will be packed with airplanes and visitors in town for the largest airshow anywhere, the 2006 EAA AirVenture (commonly referred to as the "fly-in"). Wittman will be the busiest airport in the world during the seven day run. Special procedures are published (NOTAM) to handle the traffic that include dividing the runways into sections that handle multiple actions at the same time!

A couple of landings at Dodge County, including the best crosswind landing of the day (always need a confidence builder) and we were on our way back to Watertown. Three hours in the plane, and it was a lot of work. But it was also a rewarding feeling to get a plane around a large part of the state and without getting lost.

Next up is a solo practice session on Sunday, followed by a night cross country flight the following Saturday.

Friday, July 07, 2006

KRYV 072259Z AUTO 19005KT 10SM CLR 25/13 A3024 RMK AO2

I wasn't supposed to fly tonight. I'm sure glad I did.

Got back home from our camping vacation to discover my reservation for tonight had been cancelled so that the plane could have its 100 service. All planes used for hire or for training are required to have services performed every 100 hours in addition to its annual inspection. So I talked with Adam yesterday and we agreed to take the time to do some flight planning for our long cross country tomorrow.

Sure enough, when I got to the airport, there was good old 02E sitting on the ramp, ready to go, and Adam needed no extra arm twisting to get me to agree to fly tonight. That said, he promised an endorsement allowing me to solo up to 25 nm from Watertown if I gave him a good landing at Dodge County (UNU).

And what a beautiful evening it was. Light winds, and absolutely no turbulence. It was like we were ice skating on air as we headed up to Juneau. That's when we discovered that the ADF receiver was malfunctioning, so we had to find the airport by ground reference. But once we got over that minor annoyance, I dropped into the pattern and set up for the first landing. I tried to finesse it by getting as low as possible before the flair, but I misjudged it, and promptly did a two hop landing. Not pretty, but nothing horrible. Adam directed me to take it around again, and the second landing was spot on perfect, earning a "good landing" from Adam. So we headed back to Watertown, where I carried about 5 knots too fast on the flare, but held it nicely and settled down right at stall speed.

So, back in the shed we went and then spent a few minutes talking about tomorrow's route. Depart Watertown, to Sheboygan (SBM). Then to Appleton-Outagamie County Regional Airport (ATW). This will be my first experience with a towered airport, so I will have to review radio procedures. From there we head down to Dodge County (UNU) and finally a short hop back to Watertown.

More tomorrow, on Rich's Quest For Flight.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

KRYV 011317Z AUTO 20013G20KT 10SM SCT100 22/19 A2991
KSBM 011253Z AUTO 18012KT 4SM HZ CLR 22/18 A2990

First cross country flight. I have been looking forward to this flight all week. A warm and humid day today, with the winds picking up fairly quickly. I got back from my trip late last night, and I tried to prep as much as I could. I got to the airport just before 7 and checked the weather, namely the METARs for both airports and the winds aloft observations for Green Bay (the closest reporting station). Finally got all the calculations done around 7:35 and called Green Bay FSS for the standard weather briefing and to file the flight plan. It's a good idea, even when flying VFR, to file a flight plan. It's a kind of insurance policy that, just in case something goes wrong, somebody knows about where you might be so they can find you.

Plan filed, plane inspected, we were strapped in and taxiing to Runway 23 for takeoff. Once in the air, we contact the FSS over the Madison VOR to open the flight plan. This lets the FSS know that you're actually en route. With the strong tailwinds, we were moving quickly, and before we knew it, we were 3 miles east of our flight path. The winds weren't blowing as predicted. Not to worry because by now we were picking up the Sheboygan VOR and I pointed the airplane toward the needle. In what seemed another eye blink, we were over West Bend, but now we were on course, tracking the 050 degree radial into Sheboygan. The airport was soon in sight, and I announced my intention over the Sheboygan CTAF and started my descent to the pattern altitude. The strong tailwind pushed me a bit far on the downwind and base, but otherwise the approach tasks were all familiar. I had to carry extra speed on the final before landing, but I put the plane down on the centerline and heading straight, so it was a good landing. We parked with the engine running so that we could close the flight plan. That involved using a ground communications frequency. It's kind of weird, actually. You tune to a special frequency, then key the mike 6 times. Then you hear a tone, followed by a dial tone and the number being dialed. It was, in reality, a phone line. The person at the other end was speaking over telephone while I was talking over the radio.

With the plan closed, we taxied back out to the runway and departed Sheboygan for Juneau/Dodge County. Instead of using dead reckoning (navigation aids and checkpoints), this time we navigated by the pilotage method, which is the good old, read the map and figure out which town you're flying over method. Flying into a strong headwind, we were moving pretty slow. Where it took us about 25 minutes to get to Sheboygan, it took us nearly an hour to get to Dodge County. A touch and go on Runway 20, and we were up quickly, heading back to Watertown.

Bumpiness aside, it was a nice day to fly. Summer mornings are best because you're getting up before it gets too hot. Two hours flying time today, so the hours are starting to really add up. I have a solo practice session scheduled for Friday, then another cross country flight on Saturday. This time we will fly to Sheboygan, then to Appleton, then back to Watertown.

Enjoy your holiday all, and come back again soon to Rich's Quest For Flight.