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