Monday, December 22, 2008

A New Hope.

I just checked the 10 day forecast - after Christmas it looks like we'll be getting clear skies and mid-20s temps for awhile, so I might actually be able to get this stuff finished up!

Right now it's a balmy -5°F, so it's at least warmed up a bit since this morning's -14°F.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

S-s-so very c-c-cold...

I'm feeling far too lazy to type up a full report of everything so a summary will have to do. Basically, I took the stage check, did pretty well on everything except the short field landings. Ah yes, the short field landings, which I was oh-so confident about just a couple of weeks ago.

Well the check instructor wants me to polish them up a bit and retake that part of the stage check. In a way, it's good to find the rough spots now, rather than on the checkride, but the problme now is that the weather has been horrific lately. It's either snowing, cloudy, or clear and very, very cold. I flew with Peter a few days after the checkride and the engine just never really heated up. So, I've decided to just lay low until the holidays are over and I get some decent weather.

I've got another flight schedule for tomorrow morning but since it's supposed to be -10°F, I'm going to deep six the reservation and wait for better times.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Because Knowledge is Power!

I used a precious half a day of vacation this morning and sauntered on down to Thunderbird Aviation for my Stage III Check Ride. This is the last step before the final FAA Checkride can be scheduled.

My appointment was from 9am to 1pm, with two hours each for knowledge test and flight test. The Stage III Check Ride is a practice FAA Check Ride, so I knew if I did well today, the actual checkride should go well too.

I got there at 7:30 so I could finish my cross country navigation computations and cram a little more info in before "show time". The knowledge exam portion is an oral exam with a check instructor, so it's a face to face discussion about aviation. I'm pretty comfortable in this format so I wasn't too stressed about it.

We talked for about 90 minutes about all the various aspects of aviation, and though he did stump me on a couple of things, I felt pretty confident about most of my answers, even getting airspace designations correct for once (very confusing, I'll have to post about them someday). He did tell me one thing that I'm pretty sure he's wrong about - he asked me about the electrical system of the airplane, which I've been told is similar to that of a car. He asked how many volts were in the system, I answered that while the system components were designed to run on 12v, the alternator put out closer to 13.5 volts, and the battery, at peak charge, would output the same. He said the battery couldn't output more than 12 volts, which I believe is incorrect. In the end I nodded my head as it's not at all critical to airplane operations as far as I'm personally concerned. It will never lead to this scenario:

Me: What is wrong with this plane? She won't respond to any of my control inputs!
CoPilot: Oh no...the voltage output from the battery is reading 13.5 volts! It's only supposed to be 12 volts!
Me and CoPilot: AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!(cut off by sound of explosion).

So after my stellar performance regarding aviation fun facts, I headed upstairs to study a bit more on the flying portion. Our plane landed and parked so I checked the weather. Uh oh, ceilings are at 1600 feet and dropping. For a lot of stuff we do during training, this wouldn't usually be an issue but for stalls and slow flight you need to be at 2500 feet AGL (above ground level). So, I told Dan the check instructor that I'd rather do it all at once and not have to worry about the weather. Dan agreed and we rescheduled the flight portion for Sunday at 3pm. I feel pretty good about it so it shouldn't be too big of a deal.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Last Flight with an Instructor.

Friday I flew what was most likely my last dual flight with an instructor. We worked on Short Field landings and Soft Field takeoffs. My re-education came along nicely and I think I've conquered those demons now. The next two milestones are the final Stage Check (a mock checkride to make sure I'm ready for the checkride) and, of course, the actual checkride, which is a test to FAA standards to see if I'm ready to be a pilot.

The weather is the critical factor here, so if it cooperates, I may be able to take my checkride before Christmas. I'd also like to practice solo a couple times too, just to keep from getting too rusty.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Written Exam - *PASSED*

My training lurched forward a bit today. I took my written test, which is good, because I'm ready to be done with the book work. Now, I know that expectations are very high for me to perform, and I've really felt the pressure. So it shames me to admit that my score was 93%.

Now, there was something about the test that was, uh, kinda odd. On the questions that required me to refer to a sectional chart for navigational calculations, I checked the provided chart against my plotter, and the scales were off by a small amount (3.3%). The problem with that is, when you are trying to figure out how long it's going to take to get from Point A to Point B with X amount of winds and Y heading, and the multiple choice answers are A. 39 minutes, B. 37 minutes C. 41 minutes, well, you can see the problem. So, I decreased all of my distances by 3.3% and it seemed to work ok.

Out of 60 problems, I got 4 wrong, which is pretty good, but I was hoping for 100%. Because then I'd get the respect that I've always hoped for. Or something like that.

Saturday morning I'm flying with Peter to figure out these darn short field landings, and then hopefully we'll get to the stage check next week. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Amazingly cooperative weather.

I'm going up for a quick solo jaunt today to see if I can hold my maneuvers to the Practical Test Standards as outlined for the FAA Checkride. Also, I found out that because my flight school is a Part 141 school (stricter standards than part 61), my school is allowed to perform the checkride. Not that the checkride will be easier, but it eliminates an unknown variable ("crusty old FAA examiner) from the equation. I know the lady that will be doing my checkride, and she seems normal.

And what about this Midwest weather? Sure it's a bit crisp out there, but for flying, you just can't beat it. If this weather holds out, I might have my certificate before my arbitrary deadline*.

Also, what's up with Ovaltine? The can is round, the cup is round, why not call it "Roundtine"?

*Deadline subject to change without notice.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Almost there....

I'm sorry I haven't posted in awhile, but I have been progressing with my training. My evenings have been a little busy slogging through the written test prep, and now I'm signed off on it to take the actual FAA written test, which is scheduled for this Wednesday (Nov. 26). Also, I flew solo on Friday to practice ground reference maneuvers and short field landings.

Tomorrow I fly again solo to work on my rusty short field landings. If I'm satisfied with how they look, I'm going to try to schedule my Stage III checkride for early next week, and, if the weather holds out, my ACTUAL final checkride for late next week or early the following week.

Stay tuned, our journey is almost at it's end.

Google Earth Track:
Lesson 23 - Checkride Practice
Logshare: Online Logbook

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Today was a turning point in my student pilot career. I flew my last actual lesson with a CFI. The syllabus requires only one more solo practice flight to polish any rough spots.

We worked on the items that I felt weren't quite perfect. The two biggies were short field landings and steep turns. The steep turns were just a bit too rough for me the last time we flew, because I just couldn't keep my altitude constant or my bank at 45 degrees. Turns out I was relying on the instrments too much, and Peter told me that this was a visual maneuver, not an instrument maneuver. Once I figured out the sight picture I nailed the turns with no change in altitude.

Short field landings require you to come in a little steeper and slower than normal so you can do an exaggerated flare to quickly slow the plane down for stopping on a shorter than usual runway. I just didn't have any stick time on this maneuver so Peter just worked with me on three landings and now I feel pretty good about it. I'll practice a bit solo but I think that particular dragon is slain.

One interesting and new thing that the tower had me do today was perform a 360° circle on long final approach, due to a small jet landing on a crossing runway. At first I was glad I had Peter with me but it really wasn't a big deal - I made the circle and came out of it right where I left off. I continued my approach and nailed a short field landing. It was cool because the tower initially said "526 Papa Uniform, go around, uh, actually could you do a 360 and resume approach". After I did the 360 the tower thanked me for the help. Fun!

Next steps:

Solo practice flight - scheduled for Friday the 21st.
Written Exam - going to try to get endorsed for it Friday so I can take the exam Tuesday-ish.
Oral exam - Review with Peter, scheduled for Monday.
Final Stage Check - this is the mock checkride
Checkride - The big Show. The Feds examine my flying skills and give me the thumbs up or down.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Home stretch.

I'll combine a couple of lessons here. A few days ago, shortly after my long solo cross country, I took the Warrior 526PU out to the practice area for a solo practice flight. I did a few ground reference maneuvers but I didn't loiter too long, as the mist seemed to be thickening and I didn't want to get caught in the soup. So, I went back to the airport to work on short and soft field takeoffs and landings. The takeoffs are pretty much where they need to be, but the landings need a little work. This brings me to my next flight.

A few days later I went up with Peter to start polishing the rough spots. We did a lot work on ground reference maneuvers, slow flight, stalls, and finally my nemesis, short field landings. To be honest, I believe that short field landings are the only thing that I really suck at. Now, in all fairness, we did a grand total of 3 or 4 in the 152, and before our flight last week, ZERO in the Warrior. So I think another lesson to concentrate on the short field landings should do the trick (I hope).

Anyway, I've included Google Earth waypoints for my last two lessons. I apologize for the brief entries but I'm doing a lot of studying for my written test. Enjoy!

Google Earth Track: Solo Flight / Short Field Landings
Logshare: Online Logbook

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Long March.

Well folks, we are nearing the end of our journey together. The last major training milestone has been surmounted, and all that remains is some review, the written test, and the checkride.

But, let's back up a bit. On Halloween I was scheduled for my long solo cross country flight. I agonized for two night over the route, and checkpoints, and VOR fixes. My route, Flying Cloud to Brainerd to Superior, Wisconsin, took me over some very sparsely populated areas. I'm not talking about the suburbs here, or farm country. There are large swaths of land in northern Minnesota where nobody ever bothered to build a house. So, you can see my motivation for not getting lost.


Friday morning arrived and I checked the weather. Sunny, cool, and calm all day, at Flying Cloud airport, Brainerd, AND Superior. I couldn't believe my luck - uneventful takeoffs and landings, smooth air for flying, great visibility, and no clouds to speak of.

Pete, my CFI, met me at the airport to endorse my logbook (a student pilot can only land at airports specifically approved for solo cross country trips) and give my flight plan and charts a quick inspection. He liked what he saw, asked a few questions, and turned me loose.

Now, the plane I usually fly was in the shop for routine maintenance, and the only plane that was available was a Warrior that had been at the Crystal airport (Thunderbird has a school there too). I asked the desk person what the radio stack was like the previous day and he said "oh it's like most of the other Warriors". WRONG! The communications array was a single frequency radio with a single frequency VOR, both with mechanical knobs and displays. That's right, the frequency was displayed with painted plastic disks that rotated. I wasn't happy, but I had no choice. There were no other planes available, so I preflighted the plane and fired it up. To be completely fair, the radio really worked well and although it was more work to juggle all the frequencies on one analog radio, the quality was superb and was not a negative factor on the flight. In fact, I was hearing aircraft making positional calls at airports 90 miles from my location.


The first leg, a 113 mile jaunt to Brainerd, Minnesota, went very well. Minneapolis Center had me on radar and was giving me traffic advisories (and once had me climb from 3000 to 3500 to stay clear of another airplane - thanks guys!). I landed behind a Mesaba Airlines twin prop plane and taxied back to the runway for takeoff. Soon I was airborne again for my 100 mile trip to Superior, Wisconsin. I strayed a little from my course but was soon back on track and picking up checkpoints. I was also tracking the Duluth and Brainerd VOR's so I was able to stay the course. About 20 miles or so from Superior, I could see Lake Superior, which is the largest freshwater lake in the world (by surface area, not water volume). 25 miles from Duluth I contacted Duluth Approach and received traffic advisories coming into the Twin Ports area. Landing at Richard I. Bong airport was uneventful, and the wind was very calm.

Trouble Brewing

As I taxied into the FBO (fixed-based operator) for fuel, I did not know that a critical part of my airplane was about to fail. I parked the plane and went into the building to find a bathroom and figure out how to refuel. A kid with a book on flying jammed his finger towards the back of the (very nice) FBO office and with one mission complete, asked him how I could get fuel. He said it was self-serve but I'd have to taxi closer to the pump as the hose wasn't long enough. So I jumped in, started the engine, and taxied over. Fueling was pretty easy and soon it was done. I buttoned up the plane, got out my checklist and turned the ignition key.


Huh? Did I forget something? I checked all the switches, dials, and fuses but everything looked fine. Every time I tried to engage the starter, I just got a THUNK. I wasn't happy. But, I went back to the office (the kid was currently in the air giving some other youngsters a ride) and tried to find a mechanic. I found a guy named "Skip" but he said he "only worked on Bud's equipment". There was a mechanic at the FBO but he was at lunch. I then called the flight school and we checked a few things, mostly wiring, and pretty much figured the starter was fried.

Now I was pissed. Stuck in Superior, 2/3 of the way through my long cross country, and grounded for such a stupid reason. Arrgh! I walked back to the shop to see if the mechanic was back, but it was just Skip. I explained what was going on, and he agreed to see if he could help. He came to the same conclusion regarding the starter, then said, "well, hmmm....I suppose I could hand prop it." I said "isn't that dangerous?" and he replies "well, yeah it is. Turn on both magnetos and STAND ON THE BRAKES". So, and I apologize for my language here, but that MAGNIFICENT BASTARD started the plane on the fifth pull. Skip is a true blue, born and bred, STEELY-EYED MISSILE MAN. Read that again so you don't forget.

Warrior 2240G surged into the afternoon sky, 90 minutes behind schedule and itching for open air. The first section of this last 145 mile leg followed a four-lane highway. I had some VOR fixes for waypoints, and after that, some pretty unique lakes. I kept on track for Princeton, and then turned south towards Flying Cloud in Eden Prairie. I did this to avoid the Class Bravo airpace around MSP airport.

Once I left the Princeton area, I hit a couple checkpoints then put the chart away. I was in familiar territory and didn't need it. I checked in with Flying Cloud tower, was told I was number 3 for landing. I followed another Warrior (that I've flown in a few times) into the pattern and made a nice soft landing. I was happy to be home, and relieved to not be stuck in Superior.

There you have it, the whole story of my long cross country. I'll make a few more entries, and then I'll be taking my checkride.

Until then....

Google Earth Track:
Long Solo Cross Country
Logshare: Online Logbook

Thursday, October 30, 2008


There are a lot of checkpoints in a 320 mile flight.

I'm packing extra batteries for the GPS (don't tell anyone).

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pilotage and Dead Reckoning.

The third and final stage of my flight training began today with my first solo cross country flight. I planned a trip from Flying Cloud aiport (FCM) to St. Cloud Airport (STC), a distance of 50 miles. Since I learned some hard and expensive lessons about waypoints and visual navigation, I chose very carefully. Each checkpoint feature was about 4-8 miles apart, and I made sure that I could see the next checkpoint from the current checkpoint. Doing this doesn't really add much to the workload but you always know where you are.

Of course, I'm a man of precautions. Sensible steps were taken to ensure a successful flight. So, I programmed my cheap little handheld GPS unit with a number of nearby airports and used it to verify my route of flight. Now, lest I get accused of relying on a cheap handheld GPS for navigation, relax. I used a sectional chart, waypoints, and VOR triangulation find my way around the Minnesota countryside.

So, the trip was uneventful so I won't bore you with a lengthy discourse on flying from waypoint 3 (Lake with small island) to waypoint 4 (western shore of Pelican lake). But a few interesting things DID happen.

First, when I landed at St. Cloud, 31 was the active runway. Now, this thing is a monster at 7000 feet long and 150 feet wide. As I rolled out the tower said "Warrior Five Two Three Papa Uniform hold short of Five - Two - Three." I read back the instruction but immediately became confused...what the hell did I just say? 5-23 is the runway that crossed 31, but I had to ask for confirmation. "Tower, do you want me to hold short of Five Two Three on runway Three One?" The answer was yes. I was essentially stopped on a runway capable of handling a 757, puttering away in my single engine airplane. The tower said "affirmative, hold short of Five Two Three on Runway Three One." So, that's what I did (it was a helicopter repositioning itself or something).

The second thing was another airplane that, defying the odds, managed to get close enough to cause me to alter my heading and altitude. Luckily I've been forcing myself to scan for traffic more often, and sure enough I saw this guy at 9:00 about 200 feet above me. I was at 3000, descended in a left hand turn to 2500 and watched him fly right over me. I slacked on getting flight following, and that definitely won't be happening again.

The third was when I was entering the pattern for Flying Cloud, I heard on the radio that two T-6 Texans (WWII trainers, kinda look like TBM Avengers) were coming in for a landing, and one was getting a warning horn on his gear. The other guy checked it and said one wheel was coming down slower than the other one, but looked like it was locking down. They flew the pattern a few times and finally the Texan pilot set it down REAL gentle, and it held. Drama, I say!

I'm hoping to complete my long (3.5 hour) cross country flight this week while our good fall weather holds up. I'm toying with a flight to Superior, Wisconsin and possibly Brainerd. Friday is looking good so far.

This is what I have left:

-> Long Solo Cross Country
-> Three (3) Review / Checkride Prep Flights
-> FAA Written Exam
-> FAA Practical Checkride

Hour Totals:

Total Hours: 37
Landings: 87
Solo / PIC: 3.5

Google Earth Track: Short Solo Cross Country
Logshare: Online Logbook

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stage III.

I took another stab at the whole cross-country stage check. Much attention to detail was paid this time to checkpoints, landmarks, and VOR cross-references.

We launched at about 4:45pm, and the visibility was good, with the winds at around 10 knots. As I climbed out, I turned to my calculated heading and began a "cruise climb" to 4000 feet. Immediately I began to identify my checkpoints and adjust my heading as necessary. This time, I could tell I was ahead of the airplane. I had spent a good amount of time reviewing the route and picking out secondary checkpoints that I could use in case I got off course.

In this case, a major highway was my southern boundry, and I was able to keep referencing it to maintain my heading. Also, the towns along the highway were good markers to indicate my progress.

When we got about 1/3 of the way along my planned route, Rob said "ok let's divert to Winsted". Excellent! I looked at my chart: we were due south of Winsted so I wheeled the plane north and started my scan. Since we were only 7 miles south, and I'd landed at Winsted before, I easily found the airport. We flew over, got the wind direction from the wind sock, and entered the pattern for landing. The landing was actually pretty good, but it's easy at Winsted, with it's luxurious 150' x 3000' foot grass runway.

At this point I relaxed a little, because from here I knew I could throw away the chart and easily make it back to Flying Cloud airport. We made a straight-in approach and I didn't screw up the landing too bad.

Rob said I did a good job and he thought I was ready for the solo cross country flights that are next on the agenda.

Google Earth Track: Stage Check II - Take 2
Logshare: Online Logbook

Friday, October 17, 2008

Solo in the Warrior.

Went up for a quick jaunt in the pattern today. I wanted to fly solo in the Warrior before my solo cross country trips, just to get the novelty out of the way. So now I've logged 3 more solo landings and I'm starting to get those polished a little more. One thing I proud to see was that I'm holding my patterns nice and consistent. Sure, it helped that the wind was only at 4 knots but I'll take what I can get.

I'm repeating my stage check next week, and after that, solo cross country flight.

Google Earth Track: Pattern Work - KFCM
Logshare: Online Logbook

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Remedial Cross Country.

Ok I worked through my anger issues that arose from my less-than-stellar performance on my stage check last Monday. Oh I was mad alright. I admit I drove angry all the way home.

But to understand what happened, we must examine the root cause of the failure. Two cross country flights with instructors (one at night) went off without a hitch. So, the first error was my overconfidence inspired by two fairly long, and successful, flights of the same type. So, while I spent a good amount of time preparing for the stage check flight, I did not study the details of the area I was flying through. The terrain north of Flying Cloud airport is riddled with dozens of lakes that are roughly the same size and shape (small, round).

Another error was the assumption that my performance on the first two cross country flights would prepare me for the diversion to another airport. This is simply not the case. Without an awareness of your exact location at all times, it is difficult to replot your course to a new airport. I believe that this should be taught before the stage check, because obviously I wasn't ready for it.

So, since Dan probably won't be my CFI anymore, Pete will now assume that role. He seemed like a really good instructor, and had me plan another flight to Alexandria. I kept an eagle eye on on the landmarks, stayed ahead of the airplane by entering VOR and CTAF frequencies into the radios before I needed them, and when I was told to divert, I cross checked my position with my chart and VOR fixes, and immediately flew to the diversion airport. The only thing I'd change is my landing, it was high and fast, and I should have gone around, but oh well. I'll practice landings next week.

I'm pretty confident that I can do the same thing again with Rob the stage check instructor, so I'll be calling him tomorrow to set it up.

And to silence the howling of a vocal few, I did remember to bring my GPS tracker with so there's a Google Earth track today.

I love the smell of aviation fuel in the afternoon...

Google Earth Track: Flying Cloud to Maple Lake
Logshare: Online Logbook

Correction and Update.

Ok, I've analyzed my historically awful cross country stage check flight from last week. I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I was never really off course (the VOR at the time confirmed this). The bad news is, I just didn't know where I was along the course.

So today I'm going to fly the same course again with a CFI and this time I'm going to know where I am at all times. I've gotten a painful lesson in waypoint selection so I think I can do a better job. I should have a report tonight.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Well I found out my new instructor Dan took a job flying a freight plane so he's not available for lessons before 5pm anymore. That won't work for me because I need to be home at 5:30 and also, it gets dark at 7 (and earlier every day).

But it's ok, there's not too many lessons left. I have a remedial navigation / pilotage lesson scheduled for Thursday and hopefully I can make up the failed lesson Friday or early next week. At some point I'll have to choose another CFI but for now I need to focus on getting past this stage check.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Flock of Seagulls.

Today was supposed to mark the start of the last phase of my training. But it really didn't work out that way.

I took the afternoon off so I could plan my stage II check ride. This was to be a final check to see if I had the skills to navigate a cross country trip in an airplane. So, I broke out my calculator, E6B flight computer, sectional chart, and ruler and went to work. The trip was a flight from Flying Cloud airport (FCM) to Alexandria (AXN). This is an 118 mile flight but we wouldn't really be flying it. The routine is to start the flight, go out to a few checkpoints, and then "divert" to a nearby airport. I thought I had everything all set, all contingencies accounted for, and every possible piece of information gathered. I even guessed the top 5 airports that the check instructor was likely to pick, and had critical information for each of the airports.

By now you can guess that everything did NOT go to plan. I found the first couple of checkpoints, and then things started falling apart. The check instructor kept asking "ok where are you right now?" And that's where I started to "get behind" the airplane. As I was trying to figure out where I was (and to be honest, I should have been always aware of my position), I didn't notice that I was seriously drifting off course.

The first mistake I made was getting the winds aloft (windspeed and direction at the altitude I'd be flying) at 12:30. I was not informed that there would also be an oral test portion of the stage check. So, I calculated my course and speed by using a wind direction of 180 degrees. We took off at almost exactly 2:00pm, so my data was 90 minutes old already.

I didn't discover this issue until I had gotten lost. We finally found a town, circled it, saw the name on the water tower (Annandale), and diverted to Maple Lake Airport. After I overflew the airport, I saw that the wind was right down the runway at 100 degrees. Yikes! The wind was 80 degrees off of where it should be.

I'll spare you the embarrassing details of my fumbling around trying to tell 28 different lakes apart from each other. The bottom line is, for some reason I couldn't navigate my way out of a paper bag today, even though I did really well on my first dual cross country to Willmar. It was pretty hazy today for some reason, but I think the wind direction really goofed me up.

Ok, enough whining. Here's a summary of where I screwed up and how I need to fix them:

Incorrect Wind Direction: Check winds aloft just prior to takeoff.

Not finding next checkpoint: Space checkpoints closer together and make sure they are unique enough to positively ID.

Not using all resources:
Cross reference multiple VOR's to get a positional fix.

Hazy weather: Not reports said 10+ miles of visibility, only thing to do would be to turn back. Hazy weather not really the cause of my problems.

Airspace: Be aware of what airspace I'm in and make appropriate radio calls to ensure safety.

Ok, there were a couple of things that I did ok that I should add here so that I don't get too depressed. One thing that I needed to improve was pattern work at unfamiliar airports. When I actually found Maple Lake, I overflew 500 feet above the pattern and then entered the left downwind at proper pattern altitude. I then put together a pretty good base and final approach. I did not panic when I flew through a huge flock of seagulls that was roosting on the runway threshold as I landed. Also, the landing was a pretty good one.

Next flight is a practice cross country to a nearby airport to sharpen my nav skills, then a short make up flight with Rob to demonstrate good skills in the areas that I screwed up this time.

So, everyone who had my up on a pedestal can now take me down a peg (a whole peg!). I've got work to do.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Limited Time.

Today I was reminded once again that we have limited time here on this planet. About 30 of my co-workers and I took a half day off to play paintball. We played about 4 games when suddenly the game was stopped by the ref. Apparently one of our co-workers had a medical problem up at the staging area and we needed to stay by the field so it could be dealt with. Well, apparently, the guy had decided to sit out a game because he was "tired" (and had complained of heartburn after the first game, you see where this is going) and he walked to his car to get something. He got as far as opening up his trunk, and he hit the pavement.

One of the course workers immediately started CPR and the other called 911. Cops, firemen, EMTs, and a helicopter all raced to the scene but nothing could be done. He did pass away and although I never worked with him, and in fact had never talked to him at work (he worked across the street), he was on my team and we discussed tactics and how the first match went. Neither of us knew at the time that he had less than an hour to live.

So I'd like to suggest a couple of things. Give your loved ones a hug today and tell them you're glad to have them around. Second, explore and experience whatever interests you, to the best of your ability and means.

Airplane stuff will return next week.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Happy Funtime Jamboree.

I had my second flight with my new instructor, "Dan", and it was essentially a checkout for solo flight in the Piper Warrior. We did a couple of stalls, some slow flight, and three landings.

Now, I've expressed some grumpiness at the Warrior's landing characteristics, but I think the light bulb switched on today. My first landing was a "normal" Warrior landing for me: straight, but a little bumpy, and kind of fast. Now that last element, landing too fast, was the key to figuring it all out. You see, I was flaring too flat, getting on the ground quickly, and speeding down the runway WAAAAY too fast. I couldn't figure out why I was using up so much runway (not a good thing if I ever want to land on a shorter runway).

My second landing was awful and there's no need to whip that dead horse here.

My third landing I started my flare, but over flared just a hair. I kept the yoke back, held the flare, and then slowly started letting it out. Turns out, when you hold the flare that long, you can "grease" the landing and that's what I did. Also, flaring slows the plane down better than the brakes, and I used a lot less of the runway.

So, now I'm endorsed to fly the Warrior solo, and my next lesson is a ground session with Dan to get ready for my Stage 2 Check Ride.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The flying anvil.

I'd Like My 152 Please

I hate to brag (no really) but I was pretty good at landing the Cessna 152. Occasionally, I greased a landing or two. But I tell you, this Warrior II is challenging my patience. It really is slowing down my training and I'm getting grumpy about being forced to switch. I've accepted the fact that I do have to finish my training with the Warrior but I really hope I can smooth out the landings. Here is a play-by-play of my typical landing:

Set up approach
Going too fast, pitch up
Uh oh, going too slow, pitch down
Too low! Throttle up!
Whoa, too high! Cut throttle.
Whoops, too slow, pitch down!
There's the runway, start your flare...hold it...
Why is it so hard to pull the yoke back on flare?!?!?!?

Oh yeah, I had a dual night cross country on Sunday night and I pretty much suck at cross country and night flying. I came close to a stall turning base to final at STC and jacked up the landing. Also, I was way behind the airplane in terms of setting radio frequencies, and my checklists took forever because of the darkness and I don't have them all the way memorized yet. So, I wasn't thrilled with the flight at all. However, I did manage to get us to our destinations using VOR navigation just fine. There's your silver lining I guess. At least the weather was great for flying.

Wednesday i get checked out for solo flight in the Warrior (more $$$ - whoopdee do). I'll post more when I'm in a better mood.

Google Earth Track: Flying Cloud to Saint Cloud
Logbook: Logshare

Friday, September 19, 2008

Flying Cloud to Saint Cloud.

Dual Night Cross Country

Sunday I'm scheduled to fly with my new/old CFI Dan on a night cross country to St. Cloud airport (KSTC). I'm hoping then to do my short and long solo cross countries next week so I can then prep for the written test and check ride.

Watch this space for updates!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Eight is enough.

Night Flight

The weather last night was great, so I was able to fit in my first night flight. Jim, my new instructor, took me up in the venerable Warrior II and we went out to the practice area. The takeoff was unremarkable, because all you need to do is keep the plane centered and rotate at 55 knots. You don't really need to see the runway, just the lights.

So, we practiced all the usual manuevers - stalls, steep turns, recovering from unusual attitudes. The darkness made it more critical to watch certain instruments, as the horizon outside the airplane can be hard to see clearly at night. But, despite my rustiness, I managed to do the maneuvers ok and we headed back to the airport to grind out 8 landings.

And grind we did. I would have to say that my landings were actually pretty good. None of them were greasers, but all of them were well controlled if not perfectly smooth. I know there's a trick to smooth landings with the Warrior, but the plane really overreacts compared to the Cessna 152. Flare a bit and she likes to balloon - cut the power too soon and you drop like a rock. So, you have to use a lot of finesse with the yoke, but get this - the yoke is a lot stiffer than the 152.

When we were done with the landings (which took a lot longer because a helicopter was buzzing around the pattern too) I begged my CFI to endorse me for solo in the Warrior. He said "no problem" but I just looked at my logbook and he didn't do it. So I'll have to hound him next week to get it done.

I'll have to say that I am a bit frustrated right now, though. I've changed airplane types and instructors in the last few weeks, and almost simultaneously, so I feel like I'm really struggling again. In the 152 I was flying 2-3 times a week and my CFI never touched a control. Jim, the new CFI, is always touching them and worrying that I'm going to kill us all, it seems. It doesn't inspire confidence and I'll have to just trust myself, I guess. I'm not that far from my checkride so I'm just going to work through it and learn what I need to.

Next flight: Night Dual Cross Country

Google Earth Track Part 1: Night Flight
Google Earth Track Part 2: Night Flight
Logbook: Logshare

Monday, September 8, 2008

Some thoughts on the cross country.

I've had some time to think about the cross country from Friday, and some of the things I learned. One big lesson is to be careful about what you pick for visible waypoints. Powerlines appear on the chart but can be very hard to see. I wasn't able to see any of the powerlines I chose. Luckily, Jesse had suggested I choose checkpoints with at least three identifiable features, so I was still able to navigate just fine.

Another lesson is that it's easy to get off of your course if you miss the first checkpoint after taking off. We turned to the south after takeoff, and of course, I missed my first reverse course checkpoint. From there, we were guessing our position (visibility was good despite the overcast layer above us) until we found an airport that was just south of our plotted course. We could have used the VOR but we were trying to just use pilotage and dead reckoning.

A final, and controversial lesson, is whether to fly a pattern at an untowered airport or just do a straight in to final approach. Jesse's approach was to fly over the airport 1000' above the pattern altitude (2000' above the ground) and check the windsock for windspeed and direction. Then, he'd have me fly perpendicular to the downwind and do a turning descent to pattern altitude (and announcing on the CTAF frequency all of my turns). Then we'd join the pattern and make a normal landing. This is done so everyone knows your position and you have more time to look for traffic.

Jim's approach (and he's not alone in his opinion) is to just fly to the airport, announce your position, and make a straight-in approach and landing. It was made very clear to me that this is not the safest plan. When we flew to Willmar, we made a straight-in approach and a Mooney who was doing instrument approaches announced that he was flying a "missed approach" and exiting the airspace. I asked Jim if he was flying towards us or away from us, and sure enough, he flew right over us (Jim had me lose some altitude to avoid the plane. It was probably 500' above us, and not a danger). However, had we flown the pattern, we'd have gotten nowhere near the Mooney. So, when I'm pilot in command, I think I'll do it Jesse's way.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Clear of clouds.

So my instructor Jesse has moved on to the next phase of his career. The computer at the flight school churned, clicked, and whirred, and spat out the name of my next instructor. The name, which has been cleverly changed to avoid having him discover this blog, was "Jim".

This was attempt #3 at completing my dual cross country trip. The planned trip was to Willmar, and learning the intricacies of planning a trip like this was a little painful. However, like anything, after you run through it a couple of times, it really isn't that hard at all.

I got to the flight school about 90 minutes before my scheduled session with Jim so I could finish up my navigation log. The nav log allows you to calculate the wind's effect on your heading and speed. Computers can easily do this but of course, we're required to learn how to do everything manually.

The other thing I was carefully watching was the weather in Willmar. The ceilings were a bit low but holding steady, so when Jim arrived we analyzed everything together. I was hesitant, and starting to think we should abort, but my instructor explained to me that the risk was low because the ceilings would be 1500 feet above us, they weren't getting lower, and many alternate airports were within close proximity of our course in case the clouds got too low.

Besides, he said, you should fly when the conditions aren't perfect, especially when you have the safety of a CFI on board.

Convinced that it was safe to do so, we launched, and it was very cool. We hit all my checkpoints perfectly - and 2 minutes ahead of schedule for each one. My meticulous and agonized planning had paid off. We landed uneventfully (except for just a little rain) and took off again. Since we turned to the south after departure, I got off my course quite a bit. We weren't using VOR so I had to pick out new waypoints on the fly, which I did and got us back to the airport without a problem.

This flight was extremely fun, and it was nice to get flying again. I'll have to say, though, you get very rusty on the details if you don't fly regularly. My radio work was pretty rough at first but luckily it came back quickly.

Now, I have 3 more curriculum flights left. 10 takeoffs and landings at night, a cross country trip at night, and a solo cross country. After that, it's all review for the checkride.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Again with the update.

So, it turns out Jesse is going full time to his other job and he's giving the school two weeks notice. We were going to fly on Tuesday but the weather grounded us. I'm flying with a different instructor tomorrow for the dual cross country to Willmar (BDH). Then, I can fly with Jesse for his last two weeks and hopefully get most of my remaining lessons out of the way.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Some of you are aware that I was planning on a dual cross country flight with my CFI on Monday. Due to a misunderstanding, we did not have enough time to fly but we were able to get the flight all planned and more importantly, I understand how to do it now. We've rescheduled for next Tuesday.

My CFI's pseudonym is "Jimmy". I gave him a fake name for this blog so he wouldn't find it on his own. I didn't want him to read any of this until the training was done. However, on Monday he informed me that he might be going full time with his regional airline job, and he might not be able to teach anymore.

His real name is Jesse, and I'm hoping to find out who I'm flying my dual cross country with very soon. While I'm disappointed that I couldn't finish with Jesse, I understand that flight instructing is almost always a transitional job on the path to an airline career.

We'll see what the future holds, but Jesse made a good point: he's already taught me the fundamentals of flying the airplane, and all that remains is cross country navigation and preparing for my checkride. In the meantime, I've scheduled the Warrior for a solo flight tomorrow to polish up my takeoffs and landings.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Found some good grass.

Cross Country Prep

Well we are just motoring right along with our lessons. Today was the last "cross country prep" flight, and next week we start doing our full flight plans and cross country trips.

So, today I did some more hood work (instrument practice). Essentially, it was all about being able to navigate to VOR's and keep the airplane on a heading and altitude if I accidentally fly into a cloud. We also navigated to a grass landing strip (Winsted, MN) via an outbound VOR radial at FCM airport, which did actually get us to our destination. Then, to my surprise, my CFI says "we get to put your soft field take-off and landing to practical use". So we overflew the airport, looked at the windsock, turned around and entered the pattern. Jimmy made the CTAF calls (there isn't a tower so the calls are to alert traffic in the area of our intentions) and made a pattern for landing. Unfortunately, I was struggling a bit with the 90* crosswind (8 knots) and I muffed up the approach. We did a go around and I landed ok. It was really fun to land on a grass strip. The funny thing is, it's longer that the 18/36 runway at FCM and twice as wide!

I'm still working on soft-field takeoffs but on the real deal it made a lot more sense to me and I managed to do it just fine. We climbed up to 2500 and then Jimmy pulled the power. "You just lost your engine". I pitched for speed, picked a landing spot into the wind, and went through some emergency checklist procedures.

So, then we flew back to FCM using a VOR to navigate and after what Jimmy called an "atrocious" approach, I managed to grease the landing! Got to work on my approaches though...

Monday I have a 4 hour lesson where we plan out and fly to Willmar, MN. This will be my first actual cross country. These are exciting times!

Google Earth Track: Winsted
Logbook: Logshare

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back on track.

I flew again in the Warrior today, this time in the morning when it was relatively cooler. We did hood work and unusual attitudes, where the CFI has you put the view restricting hood on and look down while he does all types of crazy stuff with the airplane. Then you look up at the gauges only and try to get the plane flying straight and level. This simulates accidently flying into a cloud, getting all screwed up, and then trying to right the plane. I felt I did pretty well, until the last time. I tried to correct the airplane but it was flying soooo slow...what the heck was going on. I checked the flaps, they were down, and added power, but it still flew sluggishly. What the heck...? Ooops...take a look at the vertical speed indicator, it was showing a 500 feet per minute climb. My CFI had adjusted the artificial horizon (you can change the position of the little airplane based on your height). So, I thought I was level but I was in a pretty steep climb. I did figure it out, though, eventually.

So then, we practiced "lost procedures". Jimmy had tried to get me lost by flying to a different area, more to the north and west than to the south and west of the airport. Adding to this was the muggy weather and lower visibility. I immediately identified two distinctive lakes and turned right towards the airport. Jimmy realized the gig was up so he had me tune in the FCM VOR and fly to it. The odd thing was, as I got closer the VOR steered me in the wrong direction (after initially working fine). I double checked the frequency and it looked fine. So, I flew back towards where the airport should have been, and sure enough, it was there.

We did a regular, short, and soft field landing, and it's obvious I still need to practice landings in the Warrior. Thankfully we can incorporate landing practice in with the other lessons so it doesn't have to hold me back.

A note on the Google Earth track today: the website I use to convert the GPS file to .kmz has a limit of 1.5MB. My track today was 1.6MB so I split up the file into two tracks. If you open one, then the other, in Google Earth you will see the whole track, and it will be glorious.

Google Earth Track:
North! To Delano (Part 1)
North! To Delano (Part 2)
Logbook: Logshare

Monday, August 18, 2008

He named himself, "Banana Tree"

The cool morning air teased me as I closed the front door to my house. In the air, the faintest hint of fall lingered for a moment, then slipped quietly away. Not yet, old friend, I thought. Not yet.

My lesson was scheduled for three o'clock in the afternoon, and I assure you, the cool air was a forgotten dream. Air, to be sure, and plenty of water suspended in it. It coaxed the sweat from my hide easily, and miserably. Yet my mood couldn't be dampened - I was to be checked out in a new type of plane - larger, more powerful, and longer range. The Piper Warrior II.

Part of me was a bit frustrated, though, as this change in airplane type was hindering my training schedule a bit. No matter, there was nothing to be done and the future cares not for our present tears. Onward, lads, to the undiscovered country!

The preflight checklist was similar to the old 152, and the differences were easily noticed. I then grabbed my CFI and off we went.

I'm aware of the high wing / low wing debate, and having only flown a high wing Cessna 152 prior to today, I was ill prepared to venture an opinion. But, I would have to say that the visibility in the Warrior is better, and looking for traffic is a bit less stressful.

Overall, the maneuvers felt familiar, but a little different. The biggest thing I noticed is elevator pressure - you need a lot of it in certain situations, such as rotating for takeoff, and getting the nose down for landing. I found myself using trim a lot more than in the 152. However, I made three good landings without assistance from my CFI so he marked me as checked out on the Warrior.

Overall I think things turned out for the best. The Warrior is a better plane for cross country flights and it's a good plane to use for when I get my certificate.

Google Earth Track: Forgot to Turn On the Tracker

Friday, August 15, 2008


Where Have All the 152s Gone

My trusty Cessna 152, N46953, has joined her sister in the maintenance shop with a bad cylinder. She's out indefinitely for an overhaul like N67973 (for several weeks/months).

So, seeing that a bunch of their students were suddenly without a flight training device, the school called me and they offered me the Piper Warrior II for about 12 bucks more an hour than what I'm paying for the 152. Since I don't have a ton of plane rental hours left, this is not a huge added expense.

HOWEVER it will take a few flights to get familiar with the plane so obviously this is a setback, if minor. I spoke with my CFI, Jimmy, and he said since our next few flights are dual anyway, it shouldn't be a huge deal and I'll be able to get signed off for solo in the Warrior quickly. Also the warrior is a bit more roomy, which is a pretty big advantage.

They're going to reinstate my cancelled lessons next week and replace the plane with the Warrior, so I'll only be missing today's flight. Tuesday should be interesting.

Get well soon 46953.

My favorite airplane, and the last currently operational Cessna 152 at my airport, has been "squawked" - taken off the flight line due to a maintenance issue. Now, the other 152 is down for scheduled maintenance - usually an engine teardown and thorough inspection (which is a good thing). But it won't be available for many weeks. The sad part is that the weather is PERFECT for flying today.

I'm a little worried, because the abrupt nature of the extended maintenance downtime most likely means one of two things:

1. A serious problem with the engine was discovered. The ticking time-bomb type.


2. Some buck-toothed, knock-kneed, corn fed goat roper slammed the poor thing down on the runway and broke something important. My guess is #2, but we'll see.

So, I'm grounded for now. Updates to follow of course!


Monday, August 11, 2008

Getting ready for cross country.

Flight #20

Well I gained 165 pounds again as my instructor Jimmy insisted there was more for me to learn. Today we concentrated on short and soft field takeoffs and landings. What this means is, how do you make the Cessna 152 take off safely on grass, and also, how do you take off on a short runway without mowing down the rhubarb at the end of the runway with your bright and shiny propeller?

Well, for short fields you shove in 10 degrees of flaps and hold the yoke way back and let the airplane get up into ground effect (15 feet off the ground or so), then you build up airspeed and pitch for best angle of climb. This is actually pretty fun because it rockets you upward pretty fast, or so it seems, and you're into a nice little climb over whatever nasty stuff was gettin' all up in your grill at the end of the stubby little runway.

Short field landings are what I like to call "combat landings". You come in steep and a little fast and flare hard right at the last second and land right past the threshold. It's a nice twist to a normal landing and shall prove to be challenging to master.

Soft field takeoffs are easy, in theory. You hold the yoke back at all times to keep the nose gear out of the turf (remember: grass runway) and you use 10 degrees of flaps just like short field takeoffs. Then you pitch for best angle of climb (in the case of the 152, your best angle of climb speed is 55 knots) and climb out normally. The landings are just normal landings, but "softer". So, basically, improve your landings and you're good to go.

Next lesson is VOR operations - that is, radio direction finders used for cross country navigation.

Google Earth Track:
KFCM Pattern
Online Logbook: Logshare
Kittens: They are cute

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Leaving the pattern.

Well I have my solo student pilot wings, so I decided to use them. The wind was 8 knots today, and holding so when I got to the school my instructor, Jimmy, told me "I checked the weather and it looks good for you to fly to the practice area yourself."

I think he's eager for me to get solo hours and to be honest, so am I. I ran out quick and checked the fuel amount, ran the weight and balance, and got the tanks filled up. There is so much extra room with just one person in the plane, getting all my stuff organized is much less stressful. So I preflighted, taxied, and took off. For the first time, I departed the pattern by myself and flew into the Great Unknown.

Well it's actually pretty well known so I farted around in the practice area with some s-turns, turns about a point, and rectangular turns. No stalls by myself yet - that's madness. Madness I say!

So, on my approach back to the airport, I report that I'm 7 miles inbound from the southwest. The tower says "call when you're 2 miles" - pretty standard. Then he calls back and says "953, I've got traffic at your 11 o'clock at 1900 feet". I couldn't see him no matter how hard I tried and told the tower. I wasn't worried because I was at 2500 feet.

"953 I have traffic closing on you at 9-10 o'clock at 2500 feet." What?!?! Again I looked but couldn't see the traffic. I was getting a little nervous at this point and then the controller said "953 traffic is not a factor, cleared to land 28R."

I made my pattern and came into 28R WAY too high. I had the throttle to idle and I was just floated merrily 100 feet above the runway, and I shoved in the throttle and said "Tower, 953, go around." Made a right crosswind, hit all my numbers, and made my best landing so far. Go arounds are easy and only really add about 2 minutes to your flight. So instead of salvaging an ugly landing, you have the option of making a good solid one.

Next flight is next week, and we'll be learning all about soft field landings and short takeoffs and landings.

Google Earth Track: Solo Practice
Online Logbook: Logshare

Monday, August 4, 2008

165 pounds lighter.

Well ok, I was nervous this morning. As I got closer and closer to my 12:00 flight reservation, I could see that the weather conditions were within the parameters for my solo flight. I was getting worried that I might actually be able to fly.

I got to the airport and Jimmy wasn't there yet so I preflighted the plane. When he showed up he quizzed me on fuel, weather, and weight and balance. He's definitely expecting a lot more out of me, and for good reason.

So, I told him that the wind was 7 knots and the cloud ceilings were 2500 feet, within the school rules of 8 knots and 2000 feet. We saddled up and taxied over to the runway.

The first two landings were, well, a bit hard. My flares were just a bit late and my throttle pulled a little too early. Nothing bent, but I really wanted a good third landing to make sure Jimmy was confident that I could land the plane by myself. So, I flew a nice square pattern, lined up for landing, and set that bird down just as smooth as you'd like. Jimmy said "Ok that landing was pretty much text book". So you see, even a blind squirrel gets an acorn every now and again.

Jimmy then tells me to taxi back to the school because he "wants out". We pulled up to the school and he endorsed my logbook for solo flight. Then I shook his hand and walked out to the plane. Wow. It was weird. But you get used to procedures and I just dove into the checklists and decided that I needed to be all business. I taxied out to the active runway, did my runup checklist, and said the magic words: "Flying Cloud tower, this is student pilot Cessna 46953 ready for takeoff on runway 36 for full stop taxi backs".

The airplane jumped off the runway as I was missing 165 lbs of instructor and I made a long upwind to make room for a King Air on final. I told the tower I had the King Air in sight and they let me turn for crosswind. The rest of the pattern was uneventful, and I paid SUPER close attention to my airspeeds (I let them get too slow in my stage check flight and I knew I couldn't get into that habit). The approach was good but flying into Runway 36 is tricky because you fly over this gulley - and there is some weird wind stuff happening there all the time. But I kept it under control and the landing was straight but...I flared a bit to early, floated a bit, pulled out too much throttle and the plane touched down a bit hard. Sigh. Well, it wasn't alarming but it wasn't my best work. So the next landing I flew another standard pattern, flared too late and bumped down a little hard.

On the approach to landing number 2, the tower announced that wind was now "360 at 20", meaning 20 knots out of the north. Yikes! 12 knots more than the minimum. I sat at the taxi turn off for a minute and considered calling the school and asking advice. But I'd just done two landings with the wind not really being a factor and I figured with the wind straight down the runway, my ground speed would be slower and I'd actually have more time to get the landing right. So I taxied up to the runway and took off again. This time, the landing was great. Maybe not a greaser but nice and smooth and maybe a little crooked but nothing to get in a twist about. I taxied back to the school and my instructor met me outside, shook my hand, and took my picture with the plane. We chatted a bit about the flight, and he asked me about my landings. I told him the first two were a bit hard but the third seemed good. He said "yeah that's kinda what I saw through the binoculors". Good thing I didn't lie.

Next flight: Solo takeoff, fly to practice area, practice, land by myself.

Google Earth Track: FCM Pattern
Online Logbook: Logshare

Friday, August 1, 2008

Rage against the wind.

Yeah ok, it was too gusty out today to solo. The school's max wind for solo students is 8 knots and no gusting. Today at 3pm when my lesson was scheduled it was 10 knots gusting to 16, so we scrubbed.

So, in lieu of flying, I copied my logbook entries to the INTERNET. Using the INTERNET you can now see everything in my logbook. I suggest you go to this HYPERLINK to access it.

Good night and good luck.

-The Flying Dutchman

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The ghost and the wind gusts.

Part 2 of my stage check arrived with a stiff wind out of the west. It was 10 knots and gusting to 20 knots, and it was a situation that was promising to make my flight portion of the stage check "interesting".

It didn't help that it was muggy and almost 90 degrees, so my climb rate was around 300fpm. My check instructor (Sammy) wanted to go to 3500 feet and I said "I don't think we have enough fuel for that". Thankfully, he laughed. He finally settled for 3000 feet (2100 feet above ground - the ground is 900 feet above sea level). We did steep turns and I held my altitude and speed pretty well, though my speed was definitely a little fast. It became obvious that my maneuvering skills had started to tarnish a bit from concentrating on landings the last four lessons.

After steep turns, we did slow flight. Sadly, Jimmy had only done this with me once or twice, and of course the check instructor wanted me to do a bunch of stuff in slow flight so the tarnish became a little more apparent. But I did what I could, and then we went to stalls. I was taught to recover the stall at the break, but Sammy wanted to show me that it's more elegant to recover at the shimmy, which I suppose might be a safer way to react to an impending stall (the airplane will start to vibrate just before it stalls). To be honest, recovering from the shimmy vs. the break is a lot faster and easier, so I had no problem with it. We also did power off stalls (a stall with the engine at idle). I made sure to keep the plane coordinated (not slipping or skidding) which is key at preventing a spin.

Once we were done with stalls, Sammy pulled my throttle out to idle and said "oops your engine just died". I went through the emergency checklist, by pitching for the best glide speed, picking a landing spot, and other things like broadcasting a mayday and setting my transponder to "7600" (emergency). I did everything right, except I chose to land with a tailwind. Now, the landing is still possible with a tailwind but it's going to be faster and require more space. Landing into the wind is always better.

Now, onto landings. I warned Sammy that my landing skills were green and not "gust tested", but he assured me that if he had to take over a landing it wouldn't really count against me due to the weather. The first landing was actually pretty good. I compensated for the gusts and crosswind, and although it wasn't a greaser, it was a good solid landing and Sammy said "that'll work!". I took off and flew the pattern again and this time I made sure to screw up the landing. We came pretty close to the edge of the runway, and Sammy urged me to steer towards the center of the runway. Anyway, we didn't even land that hard but good grief, that landing was one I hope to forget.

So, we taxi back to the school and we head downstairs for debriefing. He basically said "you did fine out there today, I see no problem letting you solo. I'll talk to your instructor."

Friday, weather permitting, I will get to solo. These are exciting times!

Oh, one more thing. A new feature of my blog is a cool GPS track of my flight. Download the .kmz file and open it in Google Earth. It will show altitude and course. Enjoy!

Google Earth Track:
Stage Check

Sunday, July 27, 2008

So close...

Friday I motored on down to the airport to take my stage check test. The test consists of 1 hour of oral testing and 1 hour (or so) of flying. This test is to demonstrate if a student is ready for solo flight.

So, I got there and Sammy, the check ride instructor, took me downstairs for the knowledge test. I think I did really well, but he found one item (power curves) that I hadn't reviewed since I first studied the material. That really sucked but I nailed everything else so I'm not too worried.

Then we looked at the weather. The automated weather monitor was reported 10 knots gusting to 20 knots. Now, it was coming straight down the runway, but even a gust from directly ahead will cause the plane to balloon. I preflighted the plane and stood outside for a moment, and it didn't seem to be gusting much. The wind sock was pretty steady so I told Sammy that I'd be ok flying. He said that he's more lenient if the weather is challenging, and to be honest, the first half of my training has been in gusty weather.

We fired up the old 152 and taxied out to the runway. She seemed to be running well but then....the oil temp gauge was fluctuating and not giving a good reading so we had to abort.

In a way, it's ok because I got to break up the test and possibly have better weather, so I'm not too bothered by it. If the weather is good this week I should be able to complete the flight test and then solo. I'm excited but a little nervous about the solo. Updates to follow!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Time to move on...

I've been stuck on landings for several lessons now, as all of my faithful readers are now painfully aware. There are, oh, half a dozen things you have to do all at once when you land and if you mess up one element, your landing goes in the crapper pronto. Each bad landing was unique, in that I would correct something I'd messed up on a previous landing, but then something else would escape from me. It was very frustrating, but came to me.

Eventually I figured out the magic formula. In the last lesson I did a bunch of bad landings...then, the last one was good. Today I confirmed that it wasn't a fluke and I did 3 good landings and 1 "OK" landing. There wasn't any intervention from Jimmy (although on the "OK" landing he touched the yoke to make sure I didn't flare too high...I didn't).

Jimmy was satisfied that my landings are acceptable and he scheduled for me a Stage Check on Friday - which is a pre-solo check consisting of an hour of oral knowledge testing and a 1 hour flight to demonstrate basic flight maneuvers (and landing LOL). So, with luck I'll solo next week.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Wear and Tear

I had a tough lesson on Friday. We did six take offs and landings. The first four were, well, terrible. After the fourth bad landing (with a couple that Jimmy had to intervene in), we pulled off onto the taxiway and I threw up my hands. I said "Jimmy I'm getting worse - I'm forgetting things in the pattern and my landings are not improving. I need to just clear my mind a bit." Jimmy of course was as cool as a cucumber and just said "I'll fly the next one completely. You just watch and try to relax."

So, that's what I did. And the funny thing is, his pattern was just like mine. His approach was a bit more polished, but I just took a step back and watched him flare and land. That's when it hit me: the landing is just a mirror image of the takeoff. My takeoffs are rock solid - straight down the runway. You see, the problem I've been having is losing positional control at the flare, so I've never really been able to concentrate on getting the flare right.

Pattern #6. Everything looks tight. Glide slope: red above white (approach is alright!). Speed is right on target. Wind starts moving me around, I make small corrections and keep my approach as clean as possible. I crossed the threshold, pull out power SLOOOWLY, nose starts to drift, and I made a slight rudder correction. I started my flare, the airplane was nice and straight, THUMP! It was a nice, straight landing. A deeper flare would have made it smoother, but everything finally clicked. We're going to keep doing landing practice until all the landings are good and non-assisted, but next lesson is starting to look promising. Updates to follow.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Shadows and dust.

Lesson: Eleventy-two

Today I had more landing practice. It was a bit warm but not too muggy, so we didn’t suffer too much while taxiing around. The “good” 152 was in the shop today (they were fixing the nose gear shimmy dampeners – YAY) so we had the “bad” one. I guess it’s not so bad, because in some ways it’s better. First, the nose gear doesn’t shimmy at all, it starts faster, and it has a very early GPS that can tell you how far and what direction the airport is. But, it’s an older plane with more hours, tends to get fouled plugs, and the radio has some weird squelch thing going on.

The Good

The first two landings were good. Landing 1 was a bit hard but that’s all that was wrong. Landing 2 was a nice solid landing.

The Bad

The next two landing were a mess. Suffice it to say that there was some really nice bouncing and yawing that didn’t wreck the airplane. But I’ve figured out the problem: I’m overcorrecting for wind, altitude, etc. when I should be just correcting.

The Aftermath

I know how decent landings look and feel, so I’ve made real progress. Jimmy wants one more lesson with just landings and I agree – I need all the landings to be good before I would consider moving on. I’ve got another lesson tomorrow, and hopefully everything will click.

I reiterated to Jimmy that I wasn’t in a hurry and that I’d do as many landings as I needed to make them all “decent”. I’m not trying to set a record or anything. Landings are not something that I want to rush.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kick the tires and, uh...

Lesson 11

The stage check is barreling down on me like a freight train. I'm ready for the oral portion, and my takeoffs and flight maneuvers are pretty solid. The last bit that needs polishing is, of course, my landings.

We were going to do three takeoffs and landings today, but it turned into four for reasons that will become obvious in a moment. I'll stick to my normal format here and break down each of the landings.

Landing One

Jimmy, my instructor, keep reminding me to loosen up and make small control inputs, not large jerky ones. Sadly, I already know this but I was nervous. This wasn't a checkride but I knew that landings were the last obstacle to taking the stage check and soloing. While my pattern looked good (if a little clunky) and my approach was decent, I flared too much and Jimmy had to take the controls to salvage the landing. I wasn't happy with this, as it seemed like a step backwards. We reviewed my mistakes and took off again.

Landing Two

Good pattern, solid approach, lined up perfectly. Flared way too late. BANG. Nothing bent. To elaborate a bit, I instinctively abandoned the flare when I heard the stall horn. Note to self: stall horn OK during the flare.

Landing Three

Pattern and approach are a lot smoother, I'm shaking off the jitters. This time I flared too high and had to let it float down a bit. Jimmy helped on controls a bit but the landing was salvageable.

Landing Four

Pattern and approach are not a problem anymore. I crossed the threshold, chopped the throttle, let her settle a bit, and started my flare. Then I pulled back slowly but completely, and the plane settled down on the runway with a satisfying "chirp". Jimmy suggested we stop on a high note and I agreed.


Essentially, we both agreed that I need another landing practice session before I take the stage check. He thinks I'm ready but not confident enough. I agreed 100 percent - I need more landings under my belt. So Tuesday of next week I have a session scheduled for landings, and then Wednesday or Thursday he's going to schedule the stage check. I feel like I'm on the verge of putting all the elements of landing together, but it hasn't clicked yet. We shall see. Oh yes, we shall.

Next lesson: greasing every landing.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Stage Check.

Well I don't have a whole lot to write about this time. My last lesson was 2 hours of ground school reviewing weather, weight and balance, and performance charts. We also spent some time going over the knowledge test to prepare for the stage check.

The stage check is to ensure that I'm ready to solo. To be honest, I feel ready for the solo except for landings, which we are going to practice quite a bit in the next few days.

I have a lesson scheduled today to practice pattern work and landings if the weather holds out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Landing strut stress test.

Lesson 10

We had a nice, long, hot flight today. The temp was topping 88 degrees and the air conditioner in the Cessna 152 wasn't...uh...installed. Our goal for this lesson was to review everything I've learned, as I have a stage check coming up very soon. I did pretty well in everything but I got a bad start with my S-turn, started late and didn't watch altitude, so my instructor let me try it again. I also got to do more "hood" work, or instrument flight, and although it's hard, and I tend to climb a bit steep, I didn't stall and I was able to do everything Jimmy asked me to do with the hood on.

So, then I got to do three full stop / taxi back landings. This means I land as normal, and taxi back to the runway for a normal take off.

The first landing, well what can I say, was very good. I was able to adjust for the 15 knot gusts (slight crosswind but mostly on the nose). The rudder was my friend and I ended up perfectly aligned and in a perfect flare. That's a great feeling, making a landing like that in challenging conditions. Unfortunately, I didn't quit while I was ahead.

Let me preface my summaries of landings two and three by saying this: my approaches are generally pretty good. I'm getting the hang of the forward slip and keeping the plane straight. But, with these gusts, sometimes all the factors pile up and I make the ugliest damned landings you could imagine. At this point I'll just say there was bouncing and ballooning and crabbing and leave it at that. The important part is I got the plane down both times with no damage and no injury. But I'm going to practice until all my landings have more in common with landing #1 than #2 and #3.

From here, we go to written test prep (next lesson), and then a stage check which is to make sure I have the skills needed for solo flight. At that point, Jimmy will determine what I need to improve or practice before endorsing me for solo flight. I'm seeing landing practice in my future.

And, on a side note, this is the most fun I've had, uh, ever.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The one where they switch the instructor.

Lesson 9

I got a call today from my flight school and they told me that my normal instructor, Jimmy, was stuck in New York because of bad weather (commercial flight). So they told me that they assigned me Bill, who was to be my original instructor before all the craziness with him not being checked out in a Cessna 152 (hilarity!).

Well at this point I'm not all that excited about getting a lesson from an instructor that I'm not familiar with, but the syllabus is pretty rigid and each flight follows the syllabus, so I figured it would be OK. Also, the weather was warm and winds were calm.

Our objectives were emergency procedures, such as engine failure / fire, and electrical fire. We spent about 45 minutes on picking places to land (we're in farm country so it's not all that hard) and setting up for landing in Farmer Lundquist's bean field. Also, on takeoff he said "oops your engine just seized up, pick a landing spot NOW", and luckily, I was able to pick a nice smooth landfill (covered up) just past the end of the runway.

The other emergencies are pretty straightforward, remembering to fly the plane first, then go through the checklist for the particular problem.

Then we got to do three landings. The first landing I did not flare enough and we hit pretty hard. I don't know what the C152 gear struts are made of but it is stern stuff. So, we took off again and this time I tried to concentrate on the flare and the rudder, and keeping the damned nose off the ground a bit (nosewheel shimmy). Flare was a bit flat but the landing was nice and straight. We hit quite a bit softer than the first one, so I was pretty much feeling good.

And now I'll tell you about the perfect landing I spoiled. I flew a good pattern, got the plane set up for landing, executed a workable forward slip-to-land without Bill's help, and was just crossing the numbers when my brain went "you're not going to make it!" so I goosed the throttle. Bill goes "no don't do that!" and took the controls for a second to re-establish the glide slope, and then I put it down in a fairly smooth landing that was a bit fast, but otherwise decent.

I guess in the grand scheme, I'd rather err on the side of throttle and have to go around or use a bit more runway, than not be sure and hit the ground in front of the runway. But of course, practice will help my confidence and my ability to judge my glide slope better.

Having Bill pinch hit for Jimmy wasn't a big deal, but I'll be happy with Jimmy back as my instructor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Glide slope.

Lesson 8

Today's lesson was, by far, the most difficult, demanding, and fun. The wind gave me a break, sort of, and was kind of a lazy 6 knot wind all day until my lesson was supposed to begin. Then it kicked up to 8 knots with 13 knot gusts (1 knot = 1.15 mph). My instructor, Jimmy, debated whether or not he wanted to take me up for takeoffs and landings with gusting winds, and finally decided to do it.

When we got to the "runup area" the right magneto was running the engine very rough. If you recall from my very first attempt at a lesson, this problem is what scrubbed it. However, this is a different Cessna 152 (the "good" one) and I was not pleased at all at this turn of events. Jimmy, however, tried running the plane at 1700 rpm and leaned out to see if he could burn off the fouling on the plug - if that's what it was. Amazingly, it worked. So, we took off. I made four landing attempts.

Landing 1

Good approach, some adjustments to throttle to account for downdrafts. Gusts were not strong but I had to make a lot of control inputs. Slip to landing finally started to sink in. The landing was a little rough around the edges but pretty good overall. Jimmy had his hand on the yoke but says he didn't make any control inputs.

Landing 2

Approach was fine. Jimmy continued to give advice for using throttle to control the glide slope, which was "mushy" due to the wind. Slips are feeling good, and the landing was actually pretty nice. Again, Jimmy has hands on yoke but says he did not have to intervene.

Landing 3

Things get hairy. My nose was pointed off the runway a bit and we hit sideways on the left main gear, which abruptly straightened us. I salvaged the landing with a decent flair but we're going too fast. I missed the first taxiway and had to take the second one. Jimmy was hands off on that one. He says it wasn't a pretty landing but it was a safe one.

Landing 4

I nailed the approach to the WALL. I was slipping perfectly, nice glide slope, airspeed just right, lined up with the runway centerline. POOF! A downdraft shoots us straight down. "I have the controls" said Jimmy and he salvaged the landing in the blink of an eye.

I told Jimmy that today's lesson was the most nerve-wracking and fun time I've had in a long time. Landing an airplane is harder than it looks. A lot harder.

Friday we get to do some more!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Two weeks?

Lesson 7

Well this lesson was supposed to be all about takeoffs and landings. However, the relentless winds won't give me a break, so we worked on steep turns, forward slips, and setting up crosswind landing approaches (we skipped to the next lesson). Jimmy says that he will now cancel future lessons until we get a calmer, non-gusty day so we can really work on takeoffs and landings.

I'm starting to understand the fundamental workings of the forward slip, both for bleeding off altitude, and for crosswind compensation. Jimmy let me get into the airport pattern, set up the approach, and essentially land the plane (he was hands on, but I really was able to get a feel for when I need to level out and flare). I also worked the rudder on landing, which was easier to handle than I thought.

Jimmy then debriefed me afterwords and we talked about some of the finer technical aspects of landings. He mentioned that if the weather cooperates I'd be able to get my takeoffs and landings polished and complete the competency check, and possible even solo in about two weeks. I'm obviously not going to hold him to that, and I know he's not going to send me up by myself unless he's sure I'm ready.

Two more lessons are scheduled this week, so watch this space for updates. Cheers!