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, January 21, 2007

Quest Complete - And Merely Beginning

Cessna 172 tail zero two echo on the ramp at Watertown Municipal Airport, waiting on a cold Wisconsin morning.

Yesterday was a day I won't soon forget. Flying an airplane had been a dream of mine ever since the day my father took me up in a small Cessna over Macon, Georgia. The dream was interrupted on December 10, 1967 when my father was killed while at the controls of the plane he was flying. Had he lived, I am certain I would have had a career in aviation. But without him, I had no guide in that respect, and I had no idea how to break into the field. Not until much later did I realize how possible it was, but by then I had a family and no resources to change my career.

In fact, it was another deep loss, the death of my mother, that enabled me to pursue this personal goal. Beginning in April of last year, and after nearly 59 flight hours, over 200 takeoffs and landings, and a lot of sweat, I was presented with a stiff examination of my skills in the practical exam. Many times I thought I was sunk. But the examiner, a very nice older gentleman, stuck with me, saw that I capable, and approved my certificate. Waves of emotion coursed through me, and continue even as I write this. For I have, after all these years, paid my father the honor he so deserved. And with that I honor my mother, who made this pursuit possible. I only wish she were here to celebrate with me.

There are many people I would like to thank for their support. My wife, for understanding perfectly what this meant to me. My brother, who never really knew father, but did pass along his flight logs. I owe you a ride or two. To all of my readers I give thanks. My primary instructor, Adam Warnemunde; good luck with your career, I hope you get that Skywest job. Other instructors, Kevin Loppnow of Watertown, and Paul Dwyer of Santa Fe, New Mexico, who not only gave me a great mountain orientation, but fixed some landing problems I was having. All of the great people at Wisconsin Aviation. And finally to Adam Curry, whose podcast I started listening to in 2005 just at the time he earned his private certificate. His enthusiasm for aviation and joy of flying helped me realize that it was never too late to fly.

What does my flying future hold? As much pleasure flying as I can get in. Perhaps as time goes on I might be able to afford an airplane of my own, and maybe an Instrument Rating. But the major goal is accomplished. And I'm still in the clouds.

Stay tuned for a more complete account of the actual flight test in a few days right here at Rich's Quest For Flight.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Two Step, and It's All Set

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In a final push to get ready for my practical exam (otherwise known as the checkride), we scheduled the twice postponed final phase check with Kevin for this morning, while I would then go up with Adam in the afternoon for final cleanup and paperwork preparation.

Adam had arranged a primary date of tomorrow, January 20, and next Saturday. With the postponements, as long as the weather held up, I would have premium practice time the day before my checkride. One thing did try to get in the way, and that was scheduled maintenance. The plane was due for its 100 hour service yesterday. My heart sank when the scheduling calendar showed the maintenance window overlapping my time today. This was not a good sign. I called the FBO this morning, and the nice lady on the other end told me that they are doing all they can to have it ready by 10:30 a.m. and to plan on coming in. So I arrived, met with Kevin, and waited. The maintenance technician was just in the process of taking the plane to another part of the ramp for a runup check. Shortly after, the plane was back and ready to go.

Kevin watched as I did my walkaround. I explained everything to him. What I was looking at and what to watch for. With the preflight complete, I set my materials up in the cockpit: my kneeboard with flight plan and sectional, the Airport and Facility Directory (the brand new edition) and my headset. We got her fired up and headed to Runway 29 to start the cross country. Take off and climb out were excellent, and the air was smooth and clear as I climbed to cruise altitude. At the second checkpoint, Kevin suggested the oil pressure had dropped dramatically, and so the cross country portion ended. I talked through what I would do, which was to land as quickly and safely as possible, after ruling out possible causes. Since we just passed over Fort Atkinson airport, we could land there. Instead, we turned to the east to perform air maneuvers. Kevin didn't run through the entire set of maneuvers, electing to sample power on stalls, turns around a point, and some instrument flying. We talked through partial engine failure, then simulated total engine failure. Everything went well, and we headed into the wind back to Watertown.

Short field, soft field and normal landings along with a short field takeoff, and we rolled it back to the ramp. Kevin was very impressed and had no concerns about my passing the exam tomorrow. It was perhaps my best session of all. We debriefed with Adam, and I went back home to have some lunch. My next flight was at 2:30 p.m.

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So it was back to the airport for some clean up work with Adam. He had me do steep turns again, a couple of crosswind landings at Dodge County, then some no flap/forward slip landings at Watertown. I think we got the rest of the burrs ground off, so to speak, and I'm ready to handle just about anything the examiner might toss at me. We finished off the paperwork, double and triple checking the FAA Form 8710-1 (Airman Certificate Application). Adam also finished all of the endorsements to my logbook, including one completely asinine one that says I'm not a terrorist. But perhaps I'll rant about that some other time.

Tomorrow I meet with the Flight Examiner at 9:00 a.m. at Watertown, for what should be a great day. I have already called him tonight and also called Green Bay Flight Service for an outlook briefing. And the outlook is fantastic. Perfect VFR conditions with light surface winds. It's come down to this. A day 39 years in the making.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Last Solo

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As a student, at any rate. The morning dawned with a low ceiling and marginal visibility, but the forecast called for improving conditions and that's what happened. The ceiling was questionable considering my solo endorsement, but it went from broken to scattered just as I fired up zero two echo. That meant I could leave the pattern and get in some last cleanup before my final phase check with Kevin next Friday.

The cold temperatures today let zero two echo jump off the runway. I was climbing 1000' per minute while maintaining 73kts climb speed. Really was quite remarkable. I found a spot just south of Clyman for some maneuvering work and I began with the rectangular course. That was followed by a turn around a point to the left, then a turn around a point to the right, then s-turns. I easily maintained the altitude and speed requirements, and while they weren't perfect circles, they should satisfy the examiner just fine.

Then it was back to the patch, and the first landing was a short field. I did float it slightly, but I got it down and stopped in about the right distance. The next time around was a forward slip to landing with flaps at 10 degrees on the final. I have trouble judging the right distance on these, since I start final almost at pattern altitude. That means losing 1000 feet of altitude in little more than a half a mile. So I pegged right rudder and dropped the left wing and wished that baby down. I did well to avoid exceeding flaps maneuvering speed, but I still one hopped the landing. Back around two more times, one a short field, and the other a normal landing and it was back to the ramp.

My solo work is done. A phase check with Kevin, a clean up session with Adam, and I'm ready for the final practical test.