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.